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.

Tuesday
Apr282015

chocolate breakfast smoothie with peanut-butter and banana 

We've had a rough go over the last month and a half sweet friends. Between us, we've had two stubborn sinus infections, one needing a second round of antibiotics, two bouts of bronchitis, and a cough/cold combination that just won't leave. We are tired and worn out and in desperate need of warmer weather. 

I have this overwhelming desire to wash every last thing in scalding hot water and open every window in the house and finally, finally welcome spring with open arms but every time that seems plausible, we have another bout of wet snowy slush. I've been trying to listen to my body and rest as much as I can but as you might suspect, resting is hard for me. I mean, I want to rest. I want to heal. But all I have had is this tremendous urge to cry. We’ve never been so sick and we’ve never had anything linger for this long so it will come as no surprise when I tell you there hasn't been a whole lot of fancy cooking going on. In fact, we've been existing primarily on quick soups, meals prepped specifically for the slow cooker and the love and generosity of my mother who has been feeding us whenever possible. 

It's never a good time for illness, but it's particularly difficult when it affects the whole family. Helping each other is hard when you can't even find the energy to help yourself. We've all just been kind of existing. Taking cat naps here and there. Comforting and reassuring each other when we are feeling particularly vulnerable and praying really, really hard that this all dissipates soon. We’re getting there though. It’s a slow process I’ve been told and I’m trying hard to remain positive and not feel defeated.

Spring is around the corner! I can tell because in the mornings, I hear the birds chirping- singing happy little melodies that promise health and renewal. And even though there are still mounds of dirty, slushy snow on the sides of every street, flowers are actually blooming. They are resilient and gutsy and under all that filthy mess, they still find a way to get to where they need to be. I’m learning a thing or two from these little flowers. We’re fighting hard to get to where we need to be and we’re almost there guys.

 xo

Wednesday
Apr012015

Scones from The Prince George Hotel

I've mentioned this before but for the last 8 years, I've been teaching a volunteer cooking class at Adsum Center, a transitional home for women and children. A couple of weeks ago, I had the great pleasure of speaking in front of friends, advocates and long time supporters of this amazing organization at their annual Blooming Tea Fundraiser. Although I'm a fairly comfortable public speaker ( because I'm a chatter box by nature I imagine,) I was a little nervous this time around. Speaking publically about things that are meaningful is difficult for me, mostly because I'm afraid I'll hit a note that will make me cry and I'm not particularly emotional by nature. I show emotion and feel emotion, but I prefer to let it simmer quietly rather than make a big fuss about it. It makes me feel exposed and vulnerable to think I might fall apart in front of others.

Do you know what helped though? My daughter. She cupped my face with her little hands right before I stepped up to the podium and looked me straight in the eyes. Mommy, when you feel really nervous, just look over at me and yiayia and Emily and Ellina and baby Harrison and baby Elias. We'll smile and you'll keep going! And that's the very best advice you can give someone who is about to give an emotional talk. Look at the people who are there to support you when you feel fragile. Their familar faces are exactly what you need when your voice is beginning to crack and your eyes are welling with tears. 

When I first began my journey at Adsum Center, I had no idea what an impact it would have on my life. The staff. The residents. Their children. I couldn’t have imagined what an imprint they would all leave on my heart. It has been a privilege, a life changing experience to witness the power of community and how it fits together like an intricate puzzle. A puzzle with a million details and a million pieces and a million colors. And it is this power of community that sustains love and growth and fosters a sense of renewal. It is this unity that gives meaning to our plight as members of society. As people with a need to do more and see more and be more.

My time at Adsum has given me a new perspective on the world, on the resilience of the human spirit, on the strength that is present every single day as a result of tireless efforts, committed staff and leadership that is steadfast and strong. What it really teaches me week after week is that we are all the same. Mothers. Daughters. Sisters. Friends. People with hopes and fears and dreams and ambitions. People who want to run and taste and live and breath.

People who support and want to be supported.

People who love and want to be loved. 

We are united as we travel along this amazing journey of life together, armed with the knowledge that small words or gestures can indeed change the world. What a grand impact it makes to help one person who helps one person who helps one person. And before we know it, we have a world of helpers and believers. A world where change is viable and doable and sustainable.

I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to the entire staff at Adsum Center who welcomed me with open arms from the very beginning and who've worked diligently for the Lunch With Nic program. I want to thank the residents for allowing me to come into their home every week, allowing me to witness what strength looks like. What hope looks like. What real courage looks like.

I couldn't possibly end this post without mentioning how completely in love I am with The Prince George Hotel. It has been the venue of choice for the Adsum Blooming Tea since inception and every year, they host the grandest and most spectacular tea party. They served dainty finger sandwiches and scones with clotted cream and strawberry preserves, an assortment of delectable desserts and of course, traditional English tea. It reminds me of a boutique Hotel in New York City- avant-garde and absolutely breathtaking on every front. I first got to know Penny Mackinnon, the catering manager, a few years ago when my mom, sister and I hosted a bridal shower at the hotel for my sister-in-law. They were in the midst of a massive renovation project at the time but she still found the energy to entertain my never-ending questions and requests. She was incredibly helpful and accommodating and she made the entire planning process effortless. You can imagine my delight when I saw her again at the fundraiser doing what she does best- facilitating and organizing and making sure everything was perfect.

I e-mailed her the very next day and asked if she could give me the recipe for the scones because they are the very best scones I have ever tasted. In a selfish attempt to secure the recipe, I promised Penny I would take it to the grave and not breath a word of it to any living soul ( stick a needle in my eye kind of promise.) She assured me that wasn’t necessary and even gave me permission to share it with all of you, right here on this little blog. So here it is. Straight from Jennifer Turner, the talented pastry chef at The Prince George Hotel.

We are lucky my friends.

You'll notice that she uses metric units of measurement but since I don't have a food scale (what kind of food blogger am I anyway?!) I converted everything to volume. 

Don't do that.

My scones were a little tough and that's because I didn't adhere to the recipe exactly as it was written. Don't tamper. Get yourselves a food scale and measure everything the way it was intended. I’m planning to do just that this week.  

Maybe I'll see if Jennifer Turner can have me to The Prince George kitchen and show me how it’s really done? 

xo