Friday
Sep042015

cherry-coconut almond muffins

My grandparents had an enormous backyard. It was beautiful and lush with a large vegetable garden and two statuesque apple trees near the back. Off to the side were concrete steps that paved the way to a smaller garden. That lower patch was adorned with sweet smelling flowers and two majestic cherry trees that were the focal point in that small stretch of green. They shielded us from the hot sun. Provided the perfect backdrop for family photos. The branches hung just low enough that our little hands could bend them forward to pick a few brightly colored stems. The tree trunks were thick enough that we were able to lean against them, bury our faces in our hands and count out loud for hide-and-seek.

A rainbow of pale yellow to bright red, those cherries were the perfect combination of sweet and sour. My grandmother often made cherry jam which was dense and syrupy and wonderful for slathering on thick slices of buttered toast. Other times, we’d spoon it onto vanilla ice cream after a particularly hot day and other times still, she’d make a lemon-cherry cake that was moist and buttery and so delicious, that it seldom made it past the first day. I remember running barefoot in the grass collecting fallen cherries in the hem of my skirt and eating more than I actually brought back to the kitchen. I loved their sudden burst of sour juice and the way my fingers were stained the most lovely candy-apple red.

When our sweet Raphaelia was born, we planted a cherry tree to honor the occasion but up until now, it’s only yielded a handful of cherries. This year however, we had an abundance of beautifully ripe fruit and we picked and rinsed and savored them exactly as they were. But then I remembered my grandmothers stewed cherry jam and that my mom wanted to make sour cherry liqueur. I thought of making a small batch of cherry syrup for summer cocktails or a light and airy Pavlova but in the end, we decided on simple cherry muffins. They’re wonderful for those busy school mornings and a nice little pick-me-up with your afternoon tea. I also took some over to a friend who just had a new baby as they are fairly healthy and easy to grab when you’re feeling the pangs of hunger, but have a wee little one who needs your attention. I know cherry season has come and gone, but if you’re able to get some sour cherries, make these muffins.

Happy first week of school dear friends. 

Tuesday
Jul072015

creamy salad dressing

Without any prompting from me, my children have started keeping a summer journal. Short little excerpts detailing their daily activities or a few lines about really important things like finding heart-shaped rocks and puffy clouds that look like elephants and hermit crabs that are small and feisty. Deeper thoughts have emerged like wondering who they’ll have as teachers next year or if grade 7 will be as difficult as everyone says it is or trying really hard to decipher if, as Sarah McLachlan sings, love really is better than ice cream ( honest to goodness, we’re debating this very thing.)

I don’t correct their spelling or punctuation or grammar. They’ll eventually learn proper editing techniques, but they might not always have the drive to write. They seem genuinely enthusiastic about it and I don’t want to stifle their creativity by making them pause for corrections and proofreading. That’s never been the purpose of journaling anyway. I want them to write simply because they have something to say. Because they enjoy it. Because they are passionate about ideas and concepts and things and people. And mostly because some day, far from now, they’ll read these entries and think of a time that was uncomplicated and carefree. When the most pressing thing on their minds was whether to have waffles or fried eggs for breakfast.

One of the very best gifts they can give themselves is being able to read their story in their very own words. From their own perspectives. One day, they will smile as they look back at their sweet cursive handwriting and recall all of those little things that would have otherwise been forgotten. World Cup predictions. Best friends. Stories about soccer games and camping trips and making strawberry pie. And those are important memories. They remind us that, even when life felt dismal, we were part of a circle of people that loved us. We took pleasure in simple things like picnicking in the park or meeting our friends for ice cream on a hot summer evening. Making homemade popsicles and having lemonade stands and beach days where we jumped over big waves and buried ourselves in the sand. It proves that we were content even when life wasn’t perfect

The opening line in one of Niko’s entries is, Today is a new day for me! Can you believe that? Today is a NEW DAY friends. Full of new possibilities and insights and experiences. And every single day for the rest of his life will be a brand new day.

I hope they spend the summer writing their little hearts out. Writing about every single beautiful thing. About the feel of the salty ocean on their bare skin. About what it’s like to lose an important soccer game. About the first taste of moon mist ice cream and walking barefoot in the prickly grass. About water balloon fights and spontaneous lawn games and collecting sticks for campfire smores. Some day, when the responsibilities of adulthood threaten to take away these little morsels of truth, these journals will be here.

And they will be filled with all the wonder and awe and amazement of childhood.

P.S A bit off topic but I’m sharing a recipe for a delicious salad dressing I made for a dinner party we had on the north shore over the weekend. It was a nice change from the olive-oil based dressings I normally make and I think it’s the perfect dressing for summer salads. We’ve even had it as a chip dip and also as a sauce over chilled salmon. So versatile and so good.

 

Thursday
Jun252015

fried egg pizza with boursin + smoked salmon

I've always been drawn to the idea of having a bed and breakfast. A small dwelling with a modern-rustic esthetic and a garden rich in vegetables and orchard fruit. Beautiful gauzy linens that adorn the breakfast table with farm fresh eggs and homemade biscuits and fresh wildflowers gracing every table. I'm not sure if my life will ever allow for such a thing, but I like day dreaming about it anyway.

Growing up in a family of four children, there was always laughter and home cooked meals and more than our share of arguments over misplaced clothing and borrowed make- up and little brothers who’d pick up the telephone and listen in on private conversations. And I suppose on some level, it's the commotion I’ve always loved. The constant, never-ending upheaval that comes with a full house.

We've decided to rent out our north shore home for part of the summer. Not in a bed and breakfast capacity but still, I like thinking about the kinds of people who will pass through our door. About the meals they’ll create and the conversations they’ll have and the memories they’ll make. I hope they wake up to rolling waves and glorious sunshine every single day and I hope they gather seashells and build sand castles and collect minty colored sea glass. I hope they run around bare foot in the grass and drink lemonade and eat homemade lobster rolls and rippled potato chips. That they take afternoon naps and make peach cobbler and fruity summer sangria and visit the lavender farm up the street. I hope they wrap themselves in warm blankets and gaze at the starry midnight sky and wake up in the morning to homemade waffles and hot coffee. That they read a great summer romance and resurrect their love of crazy eights and immerse themselves in marathons of classic board games.

Even if it rains.

Even if it pours for days and days.

I hope they love every single moment.  

Thursday
May282015

slow-cooker curried beef tacos with lentils + avocado-lime mash

When my mother was pregnant with me, she ate a dozen oranges every single day. Her craving was so strong, that she couldn’t start her morning routine without peeling her way through a box of Florida’s finest. According to old Greek folklore, a desire for citrus fruit was an imminent sign of a girl and since my grandmother was also a bit of a master at gender prediciton, my mother prepared to welcome a daughter on June 5th- her very own bithday. I was born one week early, but I still like the idea that my mom and I were supposed to share the same day. 

Only once did my mother's cravings wane to include an intense yearning for a BBQ hot dog with mustard. My father, being compliant and incredibly accommodating, got out of bed at 11 pm one night and drove 20 minutes just to appease her. My mother said she took one bite, felt completely satisfied and pushed the remainder away. She rolled over and went to sleep and my father ate the rest while watching a marathon of Perry Mason.

For the record, I love oranges and BBQ hot dogs (with mustard.)

Last Sunday, mom and I sat in the sun overlooking the bay. She was reading Kate Morton's The Forgotten Garden, and I was trying to sort through a pile of recipes I have been trying to organize. The warm sun was  a welcomed respite from the cold winter and we enjoyed each other's company while drinking hot coffee. She told me stories that made me smile and cry and feel so incredibly loved. I asked her how she felt about her first born turning forty and she started to tear up.

Old she said. But not really. Happy more than anything Nic. 

Her pregnancy was comfortable for the most part. Morning sickness for the first trimester that eventually tapered and soon enough, she had a beautiful growing belly and 6 additional months to dream. There were only a few tiny morsels of anguish that I expect every parent feels when they are about to emabrk on the most life-changing experience of their lives. Would she be patient and understanding? Would she have a soft voice and be able to teach with love? Would she be able to cope if her baby wasn’t healthy?

She graduated from Dalhousie University with a major in English literature when she was 8 1/2 months pregnant. One of my favorite photos is of my mother wearing her convocation gown, holding her diploma in one hand and caressing her belly with the other. We did it together, she's always said. From the very beginning, my parents had plans to name me after the patron Saint of my father's village in Greece. Nicholas if I was a boy and Nicholetta if I was a girl. My father cried the first time he saw me.  A daughter. My daughter, he said. 

As we sat on the deck that morning, I looked at my mother. She seemed fragile somehow. This woman who gave birth to me and nursed me and taught me absolutely everything about life. Who stayed up with me during sickness and heartache or just when I needed her to tickle my back and tell me one more story. Who lost her husband when she was only 44 years old and who had 4 children to watch over and teach and raise. A woman who had to get up day after day after a restless and agonizing sleep. Having to brush her teeth and comb her hair and pack lunches for the day and engage in all of the normal routines she always did. Put on a smile. Kiss her children. Make arrangements to be there for soccer games and recitals and stay up all night working on projects about the solar system. Having to smile brightly when her heart was breaking and all she wanted to do was curl up in a ball on the floor and sob.

How did you do it mom? 

She started to cry again and I felt awful for perhaps bringing her back to a place that she'd just as soon forget.

I don't know really. I prayed a lot for guidance and strength. I wanted to hold on tight to my children and make my own decisions and raise them the way I wanted. You were mine and I wanted to work hard for you and give you the best part of me. I felt very alone a lot of times Nic. And it's the kind of loneliness you can't really explain.

I wanted to hug her but I was too scared to move. We bundled ourselves in cotton blankets and tilted our faces towards the warm sun and for a long time, we sat in silence. I looked at her hands as she twirled her wedding band. The hands that embraced me and wiped my tears and braided my hair- even when I complained that she was pulling too hard. The ones that brushed gently against her lips when my younger sister was napping and it was time for us to be alone together for a few hours. Singing songs and reading books and eating lunch. The hands that taught me how to read and write and cook and pray. The ones that caressed my own growing belly when I was pregnant. The hands I wanted to squeeze tight that morning and never let go of.

My life has been infused with profound sadness but also with breathless appreciation for every single encounter and every single relationship and every single experience. And it was my mother and father who taught me how to work and dream and live with conviction and passion and faith. When that teeny, tiny part of vanity threatens to make me feel old and withered and gray, I hope I can remember that so far, this has been a life well-lived. A life that has been filled with belly laughs and ice cream cones and family road trips. With Christmas concerts and beach days and picnics by the ocean. Dinner parties and sun-filled vacations and oceanside hikes. With smiles and laughter and endless kisses. 

Really Nic. I’ve only ever wanted you to be happy and to feel in love with your life.

I know mom. And I am.

I really, really am. 

 

Friday
May082015

coconut chia breakfast pudding

It's hard being a parent sometimes. There are moments that are incredibly beautiful and amazing and quite perfect in every way imaginable, but there are other moments that are  taxing and chaotic and completely heart-wrenching. One of the hardest things for me as a parent is coming to the realization that I can't spare them from the inevitable: Heartache. Mean friends. Not being picked for the track team. Being told your eyeglasses are funny. That your dimples look weird. That you're too shy. That you're not cool. Or pretty. Or enough. And you know all of that isn't true but their teeny tiny hearts just can't see it yet.

They just don't know.

You tell them stories about when you were "that age," and how you felt when kids were just as mean and just as harsh but what you really want to say is " The world sucks sometimes. People say mean things and do mean things and sometimes, people are mean just because." And then you want to hold their perfect little face and wipe their tears and tell them that they need to still keep going despite the mean people. Despite ill-intentions. Despite feeling defeated and deflated and just plain beat.

You are enough. Even though you don't know it.

You are beautiful. Even though you don't see it.

You are smart and funny and amazing. Even though you don't feel it.

The biggest irony in life is that we are oblivious to all of life’s lessons while we are in the best position to receive them. When we are in the midst of chaos and frantic studying and sleepless nights lying awake nursing our babies. When we find ourselves smack in the middle of elementary school drama or when we are hormonal teenagers fretting over never-ending boy troubles. New moms trying to get it right. Little girls trying hard to fit in. Procrastinating students pulling an all-nighter. We know there are things to be learned with every obstacle and yet we aren’t privy to any of them. It’s only after those times have passed that we are able to reflect and see those fleeting moments for what they really were. Lessons. Honest-to-goodness life lessons.

I’ll never forget when my father looked me straight in the eye when I received my acceptance letter from McGill University. I thought the world was at my finger tips. That I had it all figured out. He placed his hands on my shoulders and said; “Nic, the older you get, the smarter I get.” For so many years I thought he meant that he became wiser as his children became more independent. That he grew as a parent as we got older because he was able to learn from his mistakes. But it wasn’t until I became a mother that I realized I had it all wrong.

The older I get, the more my father’s words ring true.

The more his advice and love and guidance make sense to me.

The more I understand what he meant when he said: Be careful. Drive safely. I love you. I love you. I love you.

His unwillingness to budge on things that he absolutely needed to stand his ground on. The way he worried when I was late coming home. The way he hugged me extra tight when I left home for the very first time. The way he watched me drive away when I got my license- staying put until I was completely out of sight.

But how could I have known? How could I have possibly known how grueling and yet miraculous parenthood would be? How could I have known how deeply I could love someone until I had children of my own. How profoundly I could miss somenone until I lost the most important man in my life. The truth is, you just don't know any of it while you're in the midst of it.

But here’s the thing guys. We’re still in it. We might not be abe to solve all of their problems or make all the hurt and anguish go away. And there will be so many times that we are going to wish we had said something different or done something different. That we had hugged a little tighter or listened a little longer. And we’ll  play it all back over and over in our heads and beat ourselves up for not being good enough or for not knowing enough or for not doing enough. But when that happens I hope we have enough sense to remind ourselves that we’re not supposed to understand the lesson just yet. The time will come when we’ll reflect and reminisce and we’ll know that we did the best we could. That we said the right thing and did the right thing. We listened intently and loved them profusely and gave them every bit of ourselves. And we would do it all over again because life without them wouldn't really mean anything at all.  At the end of the day, they're going to know that. And feel that.

And that's all that matters.