Summers are short in the great white north, and summer cottage weekends seem even shorter.  We’ve taken to leaving the cottage well after Sunday dinner, emphasizing our reluctance to return home and to our regular Monday to Fridays.  I felt particularly justified in leaving late last weekend since hockey try-outs delayed my arrival to tranquility until Saturday afternoon.

So the Sunday dinner menu this past weekend called for barbeque pizza.  If you have never tried it, it’s well worth the extra time and effort – akin to pizza lover’s paradise.  Unless of course you’ve already invested the time to create build your own backyard pizza oven.  In which case, you can stop reading now.   The freshly rolled pizza dough must first be brushed with olive oil and grilled before it is ‘topped’, and then quickly re-grilled to heat through and melt the cheese.

This past weekend my boys created an Epic BBQ Pizza of all Pizzas.  Any Meat Lovers Pizza out there would have shriveled up in disgrace at the site of this impressive pie.  As every leftover meat in the frig made it’s way to the pizza’s top, I felt the need to point out to our guests that a) we do not own a portable defibrillator, and b) the nearest hospital was 30 minutes away.  I confirmed we were not filming the next episode of Man vs Food but asked that they all please complete this short waiver anyway.

Though “Epic” was a good moniker for the meal, “everything-AND-the-kitchen-sink” was probably more suitable.  One of the boys yelled out, “needs more bacon strips!” to which I replied, “Seriously, there really are no more bacon strips”.  Not sure if that was a look of disappointment on his face or a calculated thought as to where exactly be the nearest slaughterhouse.   As I crumbled a little goat cheese over my scattered leftover chopped fresh tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, zucchini, my other son quipped, “Green stuff can’t be showing; you gotta cover it with more cheese” as if pointing out some code of honour from the homemade pizza trenches.

I’m reasonably certain that had I took a slice of their pizza, I would not be here to tell the story.  Suffice to say, there were no leftovers from their batch, and they showed no interest in my kitchen handiwork.  I scolded them and preached that they’d soon pay for their trans-fatty transgressions, but no, their young teenage iron-guts triumphed … and begged for more a little while later.

Oh to be young….

Upon telling friends and family that my husband and I had decided on a summer vacation to California wine country together without the kids (while all at camp), I sensed some jealousy masked in their exaggerated “Oh, how wonderful for you!”  Upon hearing that we planned to cycle through California wine country together, they added some raised eyebrows with obvious concern that a reasonably decent 20-year marriage was about to fly over the handle bars and into the ditch.  I’m not actually a cyclist, you see, but the brochure looked so good that I signed off on the payment with reckless abandon throwing caution (and the two-page waiver form) to the wind.

Mile one

After a brief layover in San Francisco during which I clearly did not conserve sufficient strength in my legs walking up and down hills with grades not meant for mountain goats let alone humans or cars, we left the city behind and were shuttled to our first winery not far from the town of Sonoma.  After an introductory wine tasting at Etude Wines, delightful shady picnic lunch, and bicycle safety briefing, we took to our ride for the afternoon.  This warm up ride (HA!), intended to get to “know our bicycles”, began at 2 o’clock in the afternoon… on a hot, sunny Californian day … it was at least 90ºF (32.2ºC) out there.  I was not yet phased for I knew today’s route took us only 18miles (30km; never mind that I’ve actually only ridden 30k once in my life) via the historic village of Sonoma along with a visit to another winery.  The slogan for Ravenswood Winery is ‘No Wimpy Wines’ but thankfully not ‘no wimpy riders’, because I stumbled into their tasting room donating a lung and a barrel of sweat.  Their other motto is ‘if your colour is beige, you should probably drink something else’.  No worries there as my pale skin had just recently fermented into the colour of their beloved 2006 Cab.  Along with the heat, we also endured this totally freakish swarm of locust-like flying bugs, some of whom I believe are still making their home in my hair.  If these were the detested glassy-winged sharpshooters which I read threaten the wine country, then wine country and its tourism don’t stand a chance.  Resuscitated at Ravenwood, we set off again for the remaining 17 miles.  Our first night’s rest was at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, so I pedaled furiously thinking if that spa closes before I get there, someone’s going to get hurt – real bad.   Still married after Day One.

Mile 18

At some point during my dinner of roasted Sonoma duck breast with glazed cipollini onions, duck confit, foie gras farce, scarlet beets with port wine sauce, someone mentioned something about tomorrow’s invigourating climb up out of the valley over Sonoma Mountain.  I ignored them as I sipped my wine ; I’ll get the highlights over bacon and lemon cottage cheese pancakes in the morning.   We do not speak of my walking up and over Sonoma Mountain (just slightly smaller than Mont Tremblant).  We do not speak of my  riding the brake the whole way down the other side.  Nor do we mention that we passed the Sonoma Mountain Zen Center which was inexplicably closed (no meditating today, just haulin’ ass up a big mountain).  No, instead we speak of my first sighting ever of a coast redwood, under which I stood in utter amazement.  And speaking of udder amazement, our afternoon ride led us back toward the Pacific Coast along rolling farmland.  Though not on their résumés, an impromptu lamb herding exercise along Valley Ford Mountain Road tested my husband and our guide, who shall be henceforth be known as The Lamb Whisperers.   Though parts of the pot-holed Fallon Roadin the afternoon weren’t suited to a military tank, let alone a road bike, we arrived safely at Bodega Bay Lodge .  No marital flat tires yet.  Hot tub overlooking the ocean eases some of the aches and tension; dinner and wine afterward assures peace for another day.

Mile 62 (Day 3)

Must pay closer attention to elevation chart today.   The morning ride up Pacific Coast Highway 1 was almost dreamlike.  The initial fog, so common to this region, soon gave way to glorious sunshine.  This is good.  This is good because there is no cycling lane on Pacific Coastal Hwy 1, and I seriously wanted that cedar redwood logging truck to get a good visual on my location.  Though my eyes were glued to the obvious lack of any paved shoulder, I did steal the occasional view of the Pacific Oceanand the numerous state parks that dot that roadway.  A sidetrack to Goat Rock Beachwas strategically averted upon noting the elevation down to the beach and then back up (surely the view can be no better down there?!).  After following the Russian Rive rfor a while, we entered Armstrong Woods State Reserve (What’s the difference between a reserve and a park?  I do not know), where I got up close and personal with some of the largest and oldest living things on the earth.  Their size escapes description.  All I know is that it was so peaceful and all too soon I was hustled back to the roaring traffic.   Shortly after we stopped to ask about the well-being of our fellow travel mate and her new road rash after an unfortunate encounter with a parked car, my husband decided to take an alternative (read:  longer and/or different from my own) route, and I bravely forged onward to Napa.  He got a little lost and appeared at our agreed upon meeting sport (Twomey Cellars ) an hour later than scheduled.  There’s a ripple in my wine now.  I am a little pissed off that I have no time to check out the town of Healdsburg and only 15 minutes to dip in the pool before showering for dinner and meeting our guest speaker from one of the local Russian River Valley vineyards.  I make a secret pack with the ghost the purportedly haunts Madrona Manor  to haunt my husband all night long (but to no avail, and of course it’s me who wakes up and scours the room with my teeny weeny reading light before heading the bathroom).  I resolve to find my happy place on Day 4 and the chip my travel mate lost from her tooth.

Mile 105

I shall make the conversion for you:  I have now travelled 168km on two wheels.  Perhaps our friends pictured the two of us frolicking in the hot tub feeding each other Californiagrapes and wine.  To which I would say, “fuhgeddaboudit” (as my newest cycling friend from Long Island, NYwould say).  IF my east coast body clock managed to let me stay up until 10pm, I would shout out a couple of ‘woohoos!’ and pass out.  If my husband so much as looked at me and my aching quadriceps, I would come back with, “Are you an RMT?  No?  Then don’t talk to me.”  I know – the trip was my idea.

Today, some of the group decided to make a full day of it and ride from Healdsburg to Yountville (some 63 miles) bypassing our lunch at Robert Young Winery in the beautiful Alexander Valley of Sonoma County.  I was thinking, “Bypass lunch at the winery…?”  Then some others decided to head off quickly after lunch to tackle the challenge that included the words ”up” and “over” and then “down” into the town of Calistoga.  There was no way I was making the same mistake twice.  Nuh-uh.  Pack ‘er up; I’m riding with the Van Man.  Day 4 brought me closer to heaven.  There is a god and Napa by thy name.  I think I could live in Yountville, California.  I’d be fat and poor but really I could.  Dinner at the Thomas Keller restaurant Bouchon  left me a little uninspired and even questioning if a visit to its more famous sister restaurant, The French Laundry, would have been any different. The spa, however, at the Villagio Inn and Spa, left me wondering when I could move in.

Mile 146

So many wineries … so little energy left in my legs … so very little money left in our wallets.  Knowing our mode of transportation would not take us too far off track, we rode along the Silverado Trail and soon stopped at , Silver Oak Cellars , following soon thereafter with a visit to Beringer.  Morning wine tastings?  Why not?  We had arranged to have lunch at the Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone Restaurant (former Christian Brothers winery).  Browsing the campus store was almost as enticing as lunch.  I’m sure equally excellent food was available in the town of St. Helena where I spent far too much on a single bottle of Napa Valley olive oil.  By the time we arrived back at home base (I did so enjoy calling The Villagio Inn and Spa, home, even if only for 48 hours!), I was ready toss my brand new cycling shoes.  You know something else, after 5 days cycling trying to look beyond the back of my ass, even my husband tired of saying “the view is great from back here!”

Mile 175

Screw this, I’m done, going to the spa.   Go away everyone and everything!  Especially you stinking cycling shoes!  Four hours and a year’s worth of my son’s tuition costs and I am restored!  And so… after a lovely lunch at NapaStyle, we bid adieu to our new cycling friends.  We boarded our shuttle to return to San Francisco, where my husband and I planned to spend the weekend before returning to reality in Ottawa.  We still had some sightseeing to do in San Francisco, you know, not having accomplished much on our initial visit upon arriving.  So, If you thought whipping through the streets of San Franciscoin a go-kart might be conspicuous, try doing it a GoCar painted bright yellow wearing the Great Kazoo’s helmets .  Though initially I tried not to make eye contact with anyone, I did determine that it was way more fun to smile and wave exuberantly at all gawkers who pointed and laughed at us.  By the way, a 6am flight out of San Francisco International Airport requires a 415am hotel pick up.  Remind me not to do that again.

Ahhhhhh, home sweet home.  Next stop? The Loire Valley (it really is a valley, right?)!

Post script: 

I should make it clear – we both agreed that this was one of the best vacations we’ve ever had!  Though mostly accurate, my blog post was tongue and cheek because I knew the memories of phenomenal people and sensational vinos, vistas and victuals would far outlast the painful moments described above  – along with the numbness in my right arm.  Backroads, the tour company with which we travelled, is second to none in service, tour excellence and local lore expertise.  My husband made a most deserved toast to our tour leaders Jill, Tony and Kaliegh over our last group dinner at Hurley’s in Yountville, and hopefully we see them again in our travels (hopefully in Yountville).


[in-duhlj] verb, -dulged, -dulg·ing.

–verb (used without object)

1.  to yield to an inclination or desire; allow oneself to follow one’s will (often followed by in ): Dessert came, but I didn’t indulge[oh – but I did!]. They indulged in unbelievable shopping sprees [or rather spa treatments].

–verb (used with object)

2.  to yield to, satisfy, or gratify (desires, feelings, etc.): to indulge one’s appetite for sweets [‘ahem, or the spa’].

3.  to yield to the wishes or whims of; be lenient or permissive with: to indulge a child [which we did!].

4.  to allow (oneself) to follow one’s will (usually followed by in ): to indulge oneself in reckless spending [or reckless eating].

It had taken weeks of planning and considerable preparation, but, with the help of, several trips to LCBO and the grocery store and more than one phone call to the Deerhurst Resort spa, the day had arrived.   My bag was packed, the cooler was filled, plenty of food in the house for the family I was abandoning, and as much laundry had been done as possible before my dryer kicked the bucket for good.  I went away for the weekend.   I went away for the weekend without my kids and without my husband.  Just a weekend mind you … less than 48 hours actually.  But I went away for the weekend.  My companions were six other women whom I’ve known my entire life (sister and cousins) to a some I’ve now known the better part of twenty years (my sisters-in-law), and the most adorable 8-month old (my newest cousin) that  I had the delight to meet for the first time.  

Like many of my soul sisters in attendance this weekend, sometimes I cram so much into one day that I feel like a vicious hurricane cutting a swath of achievement and productivity.  Then other days, that same schedule can leave me feeling besieged and exhausted.  When the dust settles, I wonder if perhaps there lie the tender balance of marriage, motherhood and mid-life.  Sigh.  It’s probably much more simple:  some days are just better than others.  I read somewhere it takes both rain and sun to make a rainbow – such is the metaphor of Life! 

After a full day at work, the four-hour drive on a two-lane highway was exhausting and I was hyper-vigilante about moose throughAlgonquinParkright at dusk.  As I walked through the door of the condo, feeling a little less than refreshed, I was quickly ambushed by warm hugs, a cool glass of Pinot Gri and the aromatic smell of a warm meal certain to be seasoned with laughter.  Rain + Sun = Rainbow.  It was a great start to the weekend.

Upon waking up Saturday morning, It was immediately clear that the weather would not cooperate.  Mother Nature clearly has something a girls’ weekend.   While the rain made the run my sister and I undertook as part of our training for the Ottawa Half less than pleasurable, our wet misery evaporated quickly in our hedonistic spa treatments.   An afternoon spent in pure indulgence (see definition above).  Rain + Sun= Rainbow.  

By the time, I returned uber-relaxed, happy hour was underway and the scent of simmering dinner wafted through the condo!  What is better than dinner after a glorious afternoon at the spa?  Dinner that someone else made!  The baby now asleep, we seven women sat around the dinner table for the better part of four hours celebrating (and occasionally griping about) our health, our history, our husbands, our children, our careers, our homes, our loved ones, our futures, our summers, our travels, our weekends, our hobbies, ourselves.  I felt privileged to be part of this auspicious group of seven who had gathered yet again to celebrate ourselves.

The feeling of pure contentment and relaxation lingered upon my return… dinner was an easy spaghetti and salad, the grocery store had closed, and best of all – I remembered the dryer was broken.  No laundry today!  Rain + Sun = Rainbow. 

See if you can pick out the new me …[heh, heh … not]

I declare an end to the Kids’ Table.  I have officially outgrown this separate dining area created for the non-adults in our family during all family gatherings.  Of course, I don’t mean that I have literally outgrown it, since many of those who sit at the kids’ table are taller than me and have been so for awhile.  Sigh.  I mean, have figuratively outgrown it from a philosophical sense.

We all remember the Kids Table.  I recall it was a portable table in the back room of my grandparents’ home in Toronto.  Situated down the hall from the dining room, this room that hosted the Kids’ Table, doubled as the spare room in which my sister and I slept when we visited for one of the many family events hosted by my paternal grandparents at 9 Four Oaks Gate.  The Table grew to feed 10 grandkids, though by the time the 9th and 10th grandkids moved from either high chair or the laps of their aunts to the Kids’ Table down the hall, the 1st and 2nd grandkids were granted a coveted place setting at the adult table, a well-earned rite of passage.  Back at the Kids’ Table, the conversation rallied from feats of strengths and intelligence to fits of laughter and screaming which predictably brought at least one parent in from the adults-only dining room.  Our personalities bloomed while our table manners withered.  The smell of percolating coffee was our cue to escape outdoors to explore my grandparents neighbourhood and the park nearby.  Sigh.

The Kids Table in my own household started out as a LittleTykes picnic table dragged in off the deck and into the kitchen.  Doubling as a craft table, that hideous green and yellow plastic gem was a mainstay piece of furniture in our family for many, many years.  A similarly obnoxious orange and red monster was ‘kid central’ in my in-laws’ household.  They were both U-G-L-Y but were they resilient!  Both have endured blood, barf and bologne in equal proportions, not to mention poop, pee, popsicle sticks and crayons.  In my own household, too, the Kids Table has grown.  There are now 9 on my side and 8 on my husband’s side, spanning almost 20 years now, hard to believe. One in university and one in diapers – neither sleeping through the night!  Sigh.

So now that I’ve come to terms with the Kids Table and its place in my memory, it’s time to grow up.  My sister has insisted of late that the Family Table be inclusive; we set one big table at which all will dine together.  My sister-in-law as well sets one large table in her kitchen with the last-to-arrive relegated to the island stools close by.  The clearing of the Kids’ Table and the setting of the Family Table could signify that we’ve grown so tired of each other and each others’ lives that we desperately need our kids to buffer our conversations.  But no, I think we all feel a shift towards a greater degree of tolerance.  I sense a growing acceptance for differing taste, differing ambitions, differing vacation destinations and certainly differing clothing styles and parenting styles – across the generations.  I’ve noticed too at our large summer FamJam that all the kids and adults have our meals wherever, completely indifferent to the generations. 

Easter 2011 was my first attempt with the Family Table.  I added as many leaves as my dining room table could hold and added 2 more card tables to the end.  The table extended into the otherwise little-used formal living room.  Sixteen heads bowed to Give Thanks (well, 15 really … one drooled).  The centrepiece was a little different – parts of it edible – but together.  Wow.  It was quite a site and I felt a surge of pride as I dug into my meal.  No more Kids’ Table.

So, for the 3rd annual cousins’ cottage weekend this summer, we could potentially be 32 people at the Family Table.  How many picnic tables do you figure will that take?

Once upon a time, I was going to be a chef.  That’s right.  While you were playing jump rope and eating ice cream, I was whipping up crepes or baking brioches.  Oh, and decorating some spectacular award winning cakes too!  So I set my sights on the Cornell School of Hotel Administration.  That’s right.  While you were busy picking out your Psychology and Computer Science texts, I was picking out Henkels and chef’s whites.  Well, you know the saying, “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”?  I certainly did and within 6 months of my first semester at Cornell, I knew the kitchen was way too hot for me.  For one who thrives on both giving and receiving positive reinforcement, I was asked too often “Who made this shit?” and told too many times, “I wouldn’t feed this to my dog” and I soon realized I had neither the stamina nor resilience to be a chef.  The hotel industry, however, still offered so many alluring alternative careers and the side step to Human Resources has faired me well both within the hospitality industry and elsewhere.

While at Cornell, surrounded by would-be hoteliers from around the world, I have to admit I was involved in and exposed to some pretty spectacular food that evolved from a healthy amount of creativity, inspiration, insurmountable taste.  Of course there was also no thought to the cost or the time involved in preparation and no need to give thought to the cost or time involved in preparation.  Every once in a while, my classmates and accomplished some spectacular shit.  We would ogle over foodie publications from all over the world.

Ten years after graduation, and 2 kids later, the Beef Wellingtons and Veal Marasalas have long digested in my distant memory.  For a while, my husband and I would put the two boys to bed and enjoy a late night dinner creation.  But add one more child to our mix and my new favourite foodie website became Kraft Canada and Campbell’s Soup (oh, but that Cooking with Philly is creeping close).  If my hotelie friends could see what I now whip up, they’d sprinkle me with Peruvian pink pepper and roast me.  Aside from the challenge of trying to find foods the whole family enjoys (I’ve given up; if 3/5 of our family give it a thumbs up, it’s a keeper), it’s even harder trying to find recipes that can be made awhile changing out of your work clothes, packing a hockey bag and signing a school permission form.  I’ve decided that my hockey momoir will have an entire chapter devoted to recipes I have found that can be assembled the night before, popped in the slow cooker and that taste as good at 5p (for early practices), and at 7p (for normal dinner time) and again at 830p (for the one who missed the first 2 dinner seatings).  It’s a pretty short chapter so far.  

Times have changed for me and time is short for me… especially through the winter.  Dinner time sneaks up so quickly and suddenly I am in a pickle.  I do what I have to in order to get kids fed and out the door.  I’ve sacrificed the prep time to salvage some family time.  I’ve come to realize it doesn’t matter what you’re eating (to a point, of course); what matters is that you’re eating together.

“Whose turn is it to set the table?”

A charity book sale was held this week in the building where I work.  I was eager to stock up on some fiction paperbacks to enhance the library at the cottage so I snuck down around 10a and wandered through the selections for sale.  I never realized how the romance and science fiction genres were so popular!  Lots of great fiction finds and at $1 per paperback I couldn’t resist a whole armful of them.  I thought, too, I should glance at the other selections and, as usual, the Cooking isle drew me in.  Among the many notable books I saw I found a gem:  “The Secrets of Good Cooking” by Sister St Mary Edith, Principal of the Montreal Cooking School Published by The Canadian Printing and Lithographing Company, Limited, Montreal…in 1928!  I figured if nothing else it would be an interesting sneak peek into the culinary past.  The subtitle indicates that the book contains, “the substance of the Courses given at the Montreal Cooking School, (Congregation of Notre-Dame)”, and the introduction suggests, “Like everything else, cooking has undergone a marked evolution”.  So before I thumbed through what remarkable culinary evolutions took place in 1928 I had to look back and see what else happened in 1928:

–         Amelia Earhardt becomes the first women to successful pilot an aircraft across the Atlantic Ocean

–         Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin

–         The Winter Olympic Games are held in St Moritz, Switzerland and the Summer Olympic Games are held in Amsterdam

–         Canada’s Prime Minister is William Lyon Mackenzie King and the US President is Calvin Coolidge (though Herbert Hoover was elected late in the year)

–         Shirley Temple is born (THE Shirley Temple not the kiddy drink!), and

–         It would be two more years before my father is born, who passed away this past spring just shy of his 80th birthday

For sure this was a relic, but in relatively good condition.  I had hoped to find the margins scribbled with loads of kitchen wisdom of a generation – plus past, but it was sadly void of any notations.  Interestingly, the entire book is written in Question and Answer format as though one of the nuns dutifully transcribed each student’s question and Sister St. Mary Edith’s response.  For example, “How long should a fowl of any kind be killed before being cooked?”, you might be wondering.  Well, according to the Sister, “Any tame or wild fowl should be cooked either within one hour of killing or after twenty-four hours.  The flesh would be tough if cooked in the intervening time.  It is even better to allow all fowl to ‘hang’ for forty-eight hours.”  Who knew?  Or, “What are squabs?” you ask.  Well, “Squabs are young pigeons generally about a month old.  They may be boned, braised, roasted or stewed.  They are generally served on toast.  They also make excellent pie”.  I think I’ve had enough of this chapter!  Ah but wait!  There is a whole chapter devoted to custards.  By the way, “May one squeeze the jelly bag to get out more juice?”  Heavens no!  ”By no means, if a perfectly clear jelly is wanted!  A second grade jelly may be made after the juice that drips through has been used.”  The things my mother never told me.  The funniest little scrap from the book is at the beginning as Sister Mary Edith laments, “Our country has perhaps ignored more than any other country, this change in culinary and eating habits.  Our diet has remained surprising the same that satisfied our hard working forefathers.  Our meals are ill chosen, poorly balanced and often badly prepared.  And that is why our sedentary generation is plagued with liver, kidney and stomach diseases.”

I wonder what Sister St Mary Edith would have thought of poutine?

If you know me, you know that lasagna is my absolute favourite food.  A dish I affectionately referred to as “plop-plop” from as long ago as I can remember (because of the curving edges of its pasta), I can eat lasagna hot or cold.  No store-bought version has ever satisfied my refined plop-plop palate and the time that must be devoted to making it from scratch means it’s only an occasional feast for me.  This is probably a good thing, too, as its rich ingredients of beef, ricotta, mozzarella are probably best consumed in moderation.

The concept of “everything in moderation”, was one with which I had some difficulty while in Italy recently with my family.  In fact, “consumed with gusto” is probably more accurate.  Staying at a working fattoria (in this case a working vineyard and olive grove), we were able to cook our own meals for the most part and pack picnics for our Tuscan countryside day trips.   We did, however, indulge in two traditional Tuscan meals at the on site restaurant prepared and served by the owners.  As expected, an antipasto was first served, followed by the primo piatto, and then the secondi served with a simple salad.  Dessert was also not neglected served alongsise the customary espresso (whose stovetop preparation I never quite mastered and must return to Italy to properly apprentice).

A lover of pasta, it does not quite sit right with me that pasta is given second billing to the meat course (though the term primo does give it an aura of superiority to secondi) being the precursor to the main event.  In both cases the main event was pretty incredible but I totally savoured the pasta.  In fact, during our Last Supper in Tuscany, it was announced that lasagna would be served as the primo piatto.  Insert the emoticon 😮 here as I’m sure that’s how I reacted.

The dish I was served bore no resemblance to the homestyle lasagna for which I had developed such an affection.  Yes, there was tomato sauce, pasta, cheese and beef but its combination achieved resulted in nothing short of a culinary masterpiece, a sonata of salivating, an opus of yum-yum.  Its rich, creamy, béchamel-like texture, fresh pasta, simmered sauce and sparing use of ground beef totally defies an appropriate expression.  Its consumption was not a messy, peeling of layers but a smooth, luscious bond of ingredients that all held on my fork and lingered on my palate… still… to this day….

Repeated mmmmm’s and ooooo’s emanated from our group as fully articulated accolades proved impossible, except for the one person in our family who spoke flawless Italian.  His linguistic talent resulted in the gift of a second serving of this indulgent lasagna.  I instantly vowed to learn Italian.

I doubt I can recreate this exceptional dish as its ingredients are probably not known to North American but I will try!  Furthmore, I’ve been home for a week now and have yet to step on my bathroom scales for fear of its reply.  Best use that device “in moderation” for another few weeks.

Ciao Italia, alla prossima!

I am a devoted reader of the Toronto Globe and Mail’s Life section.  I start on the back page reading the Facts and Arguments essays and Lives Lived submissions.  While my day may not start off full of the latest world crisis, political scandal or business innovation, it does start out thoughtfully.   I find inspiration in the humble lives of those dearly departed I don’t even know; I find pretty rational parenting advice that is helping me cope with my newly minted teens; I always find cheeky guidance on relationships that I admit has shouldered me through a few spats.  Once in a while I find a really cool study that provides my A-ha! moment of the week.

Like this one on March 9th in the Globe and Mail:  A drink a day could help keep the pounds away by Dave McGinn (aka my new saviour).  My reaction upon reading this one was one so typical of me, the calm, level-headed, highly educated, balanced person that I am:  YABADABADOOOOOOO!

This study comprised some 20,000 women over 39 with normal BMIs (Body Mass Index).  Their martinis and midriffs were tracked for 13 years! Blah-blah-blah and so on about all the drinks they did and did not consume (published in the Archives of Internal Medicine).  What is the bottom line?  Those women who completely refrained from alcohol gained the most weight during this time period.  This is just one more knock against abstinence.

A representative of Obesity Canada is quoted in the article as saying, “… any kind of data coming from this study should be taken with a grain of salt” but I’m sure he meant taken with a shaker of salt and a shot of tequila!

“Make it a double, honey! I’m on a diet!”

Though somewhat hokey, participation in a Christmas Cookie Exchange has been an annual, seasonal ritual of mine for some 6 or 7 years now.  The numbers varied year to year but at its peak, my holiday bakers numbered about 14 women.  Depending on the total number of confirmed bakers, each person bakes that many dozen identical [Okay, maybe not always so “identical”] cookies or sweet treats, bundles up each dozen for easy distribution, and joins myself and the others for a morning of coffee, conversation and communal sampling at my house.  Each may arrive with 10 dozen or so of the same goods, but leaves with 9 different dozen. 

Sadly, it appears my annual Christmas Cookie Exchange has baked its last.  The numbers dwindled to 7 or 8 last year.   In my usual round up this year, I had only 2 confirmed authentically enthusiastic eager beavers.   While the gathering coffee hour was great fun, it was, quite honestly, the culmination of hours of hard work – which evidently none of us seem to have any longer.    It’s probably my own fault as I left it too late and everyone was already scrambling to meet other Christmas deadlines.  This exchange is best done in early December.

I am lamenting the loss of a quickly assembled impressive dessert tray for holiday guests, for sure, but am much more mournful of the loss of the pre-Christmas social gathering over coffee and cookies.  Some of these women I will see at other social events, at other parties, but many I will not and used this occasion to get caught up on stories of new jobs, husbands, kids, Christmas cookie disasters and re-dos, and other important family stuff.  As hostess of such a fun event, I have been the recipient of many a holiday cookie platter.  Sadly, those platters will likely be adorned with store bought goodies.  Sure to be tasty, but lacking the storytelling.   So next year, even if no one can bake, I vow to make sure the coffee hour takes place – the birth of yet another tradition!  Of course, if you feel the urge to bring along a few cookies, I won’t stop you!

julia_child_french_cooking_2_largeI am not a huge movie-goer, unless released by Disney or Pixar, but there is a movie coming out next week that I really can’t miss.  Julie & Julia.  It’s about this young woman who decides she’s going to cook (and presumably, eat) her way through Julia’s Child’s epic classic cookbook, French Cooking.  Some 500+ recipes she tries and then blogs about her own Joys as a result.


Lots of people maintain blogs about specific experiences during wonderful projects.  I recently spoke to a local mother I know who has sold her house, bought an RV and she, her husband and two young boys are taking a year off to travel North America.  Maybe Hollywood will come calling and make a movie of her blog as well.  I remember reading a New Yorker’s blog about leaving a zero harmful impact on the environment for a whole year.  Another very challenging and worthwhile project.  Interestingly enough, how he convinced his girlsfriend to say good bye to toilet paper for a year was not one of his posts.


I often struggle for finding good blog content.  If nothing comes to mind, nothing goes to post.  I started this blog to chronicle our family’s struggle with our Lent Project living on a food budget equialent to that of social assistance for the duration of Lent (see my postings under Lenten Project 2009).  Seems to me that cooking my way through French Cooking is something I could write about but a little time consuming with 3 kids and somewhat expensive I am sure.  Drinking my way through the LCBO’s last mail flyer seems more appropriate but considerably more irresponsible.


I will have to wait for the movie to learn about how Julie went about making her “What’s for Dinner?” choices.   I don’t have a copy of Julia Child’s French Cooking but I do have another classic called Joy of Cooking.  So just for fun, on this sunny day interspersed with ravaging rains storms, I pulled out that cookbook and randomly opened it 5 times.  Here are the 5 recipes that I opened that book:


  1. Savory Sauces and Salad Dressings:  Sweet-Sour Low-Calorie Dressing
    1/2 c lemon juice
    2/3 c water
    1 tsp sugar
    1/4 tsp salt  

    Hmmmm, that seems easy.  No olive oil though?  Hardly something to write about though.



  2. Cakes, cupcakes, torten and filled cakes (now we’re getting somewhere):  Hazelnut TorteRight off the bat it asks for a 10-inch removeable-rim pan.  Don’t have one of those.  Next. 


  3. Shellfish:  Clambake (I thought that was a party not a recipe)
    200 soft-shell clams (Oh, ok so it is a party)
    50 hard-shell clams (just for diversity? ) It gets better…
    4 dozen ears sweet corn
    5 broiling chickens
    10 sweet potatoes
    20 Frankfurters (what? For the kids?)
    20 1 1/2 pound lobsters (Who would eat weenies when there’s lobster around?)  

    The book then proceeds to instruct me how to dig a sand pit and 1 foot deep and 3 1/2 feet wide … And get a wet tarpauline ready that is bigger than the pit.  And some wet seaweed.  I suppose it would make for a very nice play area following the clam bake.  Next.



  4. Meat:  Lamb Fries
    Also known as animelles, frivolitiees, or “mountain oysters” these testicles of young lambs are a great delicacy”.  Okay, stop right there.  I can’t even continue reading this one.  

    And finally….



  5. Candies and Confection:  Caramel Fondant
    1/2 c milk
    1 1/2 c sugar
    1/4 c butter
    While heating to a boil, caramelize another 1/4 c sugar.  Then add to the heated milk, sugar mixture.  Cook candy to soft-ball stage 234 degrees.  Cool to 100 degrees and beat until creamy.  Pour into a pan and mark into squares.   

    This I could do!  Or then again, I could just go buy a Tootsie Roll.



It’s all in the book – or the movie.  Obviously I need to go out a pick up a copy a French Cooking.  Bon Appetit!



About Astra
Ottawa mom of 3 poking fun at myself, motherhood, and minor hockey! I am steering through life dodging stinky hockey gear and empty wine bottles.
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