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

Thursday
Mar122015

penne sorrentino

I’ve learned a lot about the practice of photographing food and documenting the entire process from start to finish because of this little blog. I’ve realized that it’s the little things, the fine details, the props and linens and silverware that bring a story to life and a lot of the time, it’s the scenes behind the finished product that really tell the story. It brings authenticity to the experience and makes the story come alive since it often verifies what we all know to be true- that cooking can be chaotic and incredibly untidy and full of crumbs and splatters and spills. 

A couple of months ago, I travelled to the north shore for a creative retreat with three wonderful women that I've gotten to know over the last year. We shared stories and experiences and had informative discussions about writing and picture-taking and the panache involved in narrating through photographs. There was a lot of wine-drinking and cheese-eating and oyster-shucking and conversations unfolded that really solidified our newfound friendships. I think what draws people together sometimes isn't only the common interestes that seem to just fit, but rather the desire to learn from each other. To gather information from our trusted friends and be open to new methods and new discoveries and new ways of thinking.

And now, these three lovelies have become cherished friends. We do all the food fest circuits together. Attend food film festivals. Meet for prosecco and burgers in the middle of the afternoon. Brainstorm about special projects that make us want to scream with excitement. (Only real food nerds do that apparently. Who knew?) And the best part, is that they are all self-taught which makes them so approachable because they've learned through trial and error and hands on experience. Real life experience. That's pretty marvelousl I think.

Truth be told, I didn’t think I had room in my adult life to nurture new friendships. To commit and foster and take the time to cultivate the kinds of relationships that have come to mean so much to me.

But I was wrong.

Check out these remarkable Halifax-based artists and the spectacular work they bring forth every single day. Gabby, Kathy and Kelly are writers, stylists and photographers but most importantly, wonderful people with explosive hearts and creative minds and an eye for truly beautiful things.  

Wednesday
Feb182015

Daniel Boulud's Madeleins- adapted from bon appetit 

A couple of weeks ago, while I was on my way to visit my dear friend Emily, I found myself on a little north end street stuck in an enormous pile of snow. I ignored the fact that the street had not been plowed and believed that with some gentle force, I could get through the thick blanket of snow. This was about 20 minutes after I had gotten into a very minor fender bender.

It was just one of those days.

The back seat was as follows: Niko sitting on one side holding two cups of scalding coffee, Raphaelia in the middle, holding a box of squished muffins, complaining about how hot it was in the car and my little 10 month old niece, peacefully sleeping in her car seat on the other side.

The grinding and spinning of the tires must have caused people to stop and stare and most likely, feel a bit sorry for me because before I knew it, a lovely young woman came out with a shovel and a pail of salt. We shoveled around the car and underneath it. We sprinkled salt along the perimeter and under the tires. Her mother came out with another pail, this time, filled with gritty sand. At this point, the hot coffee had spilled all over Niko’s new jacket, Raphaelia had taken off her hat and coat and was fanning herself, the muffins had fallen to the ground and had been accidentally stepped on and the baby started to wake up- hungry. And just when I thought things couldn’t possibly get any worse, I realized I was going to run out of gas. Why hadn’t I stopped 10 min before like I had planned? 

Emily arrived just in the nick of time and whisked all three children to her home. She also has two little ones of her own so I can only imagine the fun that ensued while she was alone with all five. Thanks Em.

The sweet mother-daughter team, realizing there was nothing more they could do, retreated to their home but left the salt and sand buckets as well their shovel. Another elderly neighbor saw my struggle and tried to assist by using his snow blower to create a path around me. But nothing dear friends. I was stuck on a snowy little island with no hope of getting off. (A bit dramatic yes, but it really was awful at the time.) Other residents on the street stopped and tried to push the car. They got on their hands and knees and used miniature hand- shovels to try and loosen the tightly packed snow under the car.

A Leaheys Landscaping sidewalk plow stopped to help.

The postman stopped to help.

A tow truck stopped to help.

An enormous street plow stopped to help. (Thank you to the bearded driver of a G & R Kelly truck who plowed the entire street and guided me to rock the car back and forth.)

All of these strangers took time out of their busy day to help me and with their collective effort, I was finally able to free myself.

Lessons learned: Keep a shovel and a bag of salt with me at all times.

Do not allow your children to hold hot coffee. Ever. Ever. Ever.

Never liken your small car to a massive 4x4 that can make it through anything.

Have food readily available for teeny tiny nieces who might wake up  starving.

Never leave the house in anything but water-proof boots on stormy days. Goodbye exepensive, stylish booties.

Good people exist everywhere. Honest to goodness, wonderful, helpful, good people.

Thank you residents and friends of Roome Street. You are all gems. I’m thinking of making dozens and dozens of muffins for all of you so if any of you read this, be sure to let me know what your favorite kinds are. I promise they won’t be squished or stepped on. Or, alternatively, these French madeleines perhaps? They taste like a ray of sunshine.

People of Halifax, I love you. xo