Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What? You’ve never had S’mores before?

I’m sitting in a folding chair outside at Goldstream Park. The smell of dead salmon wafts past me mingled with the ash and smoke from the fire, which is struggling a bit in this damp weather (the fire, not the dead salmon). It’s not exactly raining…well…OK, it’s raining. But just lightly. The cedar trees tower over me and I can just make out the top of Mt. Finlayson above me through the swirling mist. It looks wet up there and I can see rock faces slick with water. Across the fire pit my daughter Zoe is enjoying a marshmallow as only an 8yr old can. She is simultaneously licking it and melding her soul to it and clearly enjoying every second of it. A stainless steel cup of water sits on the fire grate ready for the licorice fern root that Jacob is peeling.

I have been dragging my kids to Goldstream Park every November since they were little. At first we would stand and stare at the salmon as they limped upstream like so many zombies with bits falling off them and huge chunks of flesh missing. In the last few years, the fish have only drawn minimal interest from the kids. I mean, really, how many half-dead salmon can you look at before they all start to look the same. And they have each been on a bazillion field trips led by well-meaning teachers who, if they had checked with last-year’s teacher would have learned that the kids had been there done that. And the year before as well. But whatever. When we go, it’s not about science as much as it is about sitting around a fire, defying mother nature, and eating huge quantities of marshmallows, hot dogs, and most importantly, as many s’mores as possible. Salad & fruit is replaced with Graham crackers and chocolate, milk with hot chocolate, and the only vegetable in sight is ketchup. It’s all good.

We usually undertake this venture by ourselves but this year we invited some friends along. We got through the hot-dog/hot chocolate/roasting marshmallows part without incident, except for a moment when our Bulgarian friend, Jivko, decided the fire needed some attention and proceeded to fan it with great gusto, scattering ash, embers and smoke everywhere. Good thing it was raining or he would have started a forest fire.

Note how the chairs empty as the fanning increases…

 DSC05384 DSC05385DSC05386

That’s Heather on the left, barely visible through through the swirling ash and smoke, and Jiv on the rightDSC05391

After a few minutes of staring at the fire while the various children dusted themselves off and roasted marshmallows, and Chewbacca the dog tried unsuccessfully to navigate his way through chairs and legs without getting completely wound up, I declared it was time for s’mores. “What is this s’mores?” said the Bulgarian. “You know, s’mores…marshmallows, graham crackers, chocolate…Like as in ‘God that’s delicious I want s’more'…?” I said. Heather and I tried in vain to explain them. I was floored. This was a crime! At this rate he was probably also about to tell me that he had never heard of toques, Neil Young, or Anne of Green Gables. And he couldn’t play the immigrant card either as he has been in Canada for 20yrs.

He still gave me a look like I had three heads and said something to the effect of “No and I don’t know what you are talking about.”  Apparently they don’t do s’mores in Bulgaria. Whatever. I was going to start into a big explanation but I decided instead that a demonstration was in order. For those of you who are also unfamiliar with this most excellent of North American traditions, here’s how it works:

Start with a fire


Then lay down your first graham cracker


Stick a marshmallow on that baby


Add some chocolate and another graham cracker and slap the whole thing on the fire and let it melt…

And may I just say here that you must not be stingy with the chocolate. Mothers and fathers everywhere, just chill out and turn a blind eye when your kids stick a huge chunk of chocolate on that bad-boy. It’s all part of it. If you don’t use enough chocolate, your s’mores will appear neat and orderly. This is wrong. s’mores, by nature, are messy and must get all over your face or they don’t taste as good.



Yes! That’s what I’m talking about!

At this point further discussion was rendered impossible as our mouths were full of chocolate, marshmallow etc. There was a line up for the s’mores maker but fortunately the kids kept themselves occupied roasting the perfect marshmallow while they waited their turn. At the store, I had wondered that perhaps 800 marshmallows was going to be too many but it turned out to barely be enough. The girls did themselves proud, and the parents were pretty good too:




Nicely browned.



Good work.


The author, with her masterpiece. Well, part of it anyway.

And, in the one and only time when s’mores are ever like half-dead salmon, there comes a time when you have had enough. We packed everything up and, in the semi-darkness, made our way to our cars. The fire was still burning cheerfully as we left and I felt kinda sad leaving it, thinking of all the yummy things we could be cooking over its coals. Actually, I had that thought for about 4 seconds before realizing that I had consumed more calories than a small army and would not need to eat again. Ever. Zoe confirmed this thought in the car by declaring the bag of marshmallows ‘gross’ and that she couldn’t even look at it. Strangely enough, she was back into them the next day. She actually asked if she could have one in her lunch. I think she was confused by my campfire enthusiasm that one minute flared up and told her she could and should eat as many marshmallows and as much chocolate as possible, and the next, had died down and was admonishing her for even thinking about them. Oh well. Sorry! Can’t be the model mother all the time. And if you’re inconsistent from time to time then it just helps them all the more to appreciate you when you are consistent. Or something. Whatever. Anyway.

So if you, like my friend Jiv, have been in Canada for 20 yrs and never had s’mores before, there’s still time. I would be happy to come along and demonstrate for you. And Jiv will probably want to come, too, if this last picture is any indication….

Yes, they were that good.


Thanks for reading!



Thursday, November 12, 2009

Coffee Virgin, Tea Lover


I am, it must be said, addicted to tea. I am either making it, drinking it, or looking longingly into an empty cup and I probably  drink far too much of it throughout the day.

I have never been a successful coffee drinker, although I always wanted to be. I would watch enviously as my friends and roommates morphed from half-dead zombies to perky, chipper playmates after their morning coffee. Sucking back another cup of tea, I would wait impatiently for a kick of energy, but it never had the same effect. This was likely due to the fact that I brewed tea much like my mother which consisted of holding a tea bag in a cup of warm water for 2 seconds and then adding a cup of milk and no sugar. The warm milk would override any boost provided by the miniscule amount of caffeine and effectively send me back to sleep.

I was a coffee virgin until a trip to Guatemala when I was 19 and had my first coffee experience. I was staying with a lovely couple, Anna-Maria and Marco, in the suburbs of Guatemala City. They had a tiny house with a huge coffee plant in the front courtyard. On my first morning I stumbled bleary-eyed into the kitchen. Anna-Maria took one look at me and pressed a warm mug of something dark and divine-smelling into my hands. I took a sip, then another, thinking this smells like…like…coffee! I drank the whole thing and then another. I wanted more. It was the warm glow that spread through me, I think, that did it… I had many a delicious cup of Guatemalan coffee while I was there and I pretty much convinced myself that I had become a coffee drinker. “God I need a coffee'” I would say in the morning, pretending to be more tired than I actually was just so I could impress my friends with my new adult behaviour.

I carried on like this until I returned to Canada. One day shortly after I got home, I found myself in the presence of a couple of hardened coffee drinkers. They were CUPE union officials and these guys could drink. Wielding paper cups of drip coffee, they deftly gesticulated this point and that argument without spilling a drop. We were in a coffee shop ‘celebrating’ my win at an arbitration session over a job when they ordered me a coffee. I sat there smugly waiting, recalling how the old Jane would have asked for tea, like a wimp, but this new Jane would have no issue with coffee. Now, in Guatemala, you can practically watch as they pick the beans under your nose, roast them, grind them and then brew it up for you. In Canada, they do not do this. I am not sure exactly what they do, but somewhere along the way, they have added the ‘remove coffee flavour’ step and also the ‘add ground up burnt shoes’ step, the ‘add greasy oil slick from side of highway after a rainstorm’ step, and the ‘add extra caffeine’ step. The cup of coffee I had that day was so vile, so far removed from the delicious cups of divine I had so enjoyed in Guatemala, I could hardly understand it.

I suffered through the cup, barely able to choke it down, said a hasty good-bye and went home. Over the next few hours, a storm brewed in my system. At first I just felt a little more hyper than usual. Then I started to get the shakes. Then I became anxious and started worrying about silly things like what had I done in grade 7 that so upset Lori Birdsall and why had I worn those stupid boots to school in grade 5 and had it been me who had left the chicken coop door open at my friend Jennifer’s house in grade 4 the night all her chickens got out. That sort of thing. Pretty soon I was outside and climbing up a rocky outcropping just outside our house. Kent found me there shaking and rocking back and forth declaring that my death was imminent. Shortly thereafter I threw-up. I don’t really remember much after that. The next day I felt like I had been hit by something really big, like a ferry.

Suffice to say, I could no longer enjoy a cup of coffee.  I do still feel a slight tug of envy when someone shows up at work with coffee for everyone. They hand them out with an air of intimacy usually found only between lovers “Billy, here’s your super-fat non-skinny tripple-dipple latte with a shot of curry powder and a side-sprig of asparagus. I also remembered you like a sprinkle of burnt shoe and I brought you some extra sugar with that”. Wink Wink. Bill will give Debbie a look of sheer love like she has just brought him kryptonite or something and say “Oh! Oh THANK YOU, Debbie. I’ll get yours tomorrow. What a DOLL you are.” When they get to me they shrug and apologetically say something like “I wasn’t sure what you….do you…ummm…do you even drink coffee?”.

Well, no, Debbie, I don’t. I gave it up after it mistreated me. I found a new lover. After the coffee fiasco, I went running back to tea. I learned how to brew it properly (good tea, boiling water, 5 minutes, cream, sugar, stir, ahhhhh) and now I can never go back. Within a few minutes of a nice cuppa, that  lovely warm glow works its way through my body and I’m feelin’ fine. Add someone I love opposite me at the table sharing the pot and it’s all good.

So all you coffee drinkers out there, I know it does it for you so stick with whatever works but if you ever get tired of burnt shoes, come see me; tea is one love I don’t mind sharing.


Thanks for reading



Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Do not ask me what is for dinner or I will be forced to kill you…

I’m standing in the kitchen, one hand on my hip, the other holding the cupboard door open. My eyes narrow as I stare at the same can of beets that has been there for 4 years. Not you again. Why is there always a can of beets in my cupboard? Look just to the left and you’ll find a can of pinto beans that have been there since 1962. They came with the house. And, yes, there is that same can of red kidney beans that has been there almost as long.  I hate kidney beans and their mealy blandness. Who cares if they have 468% of your daily riboflavin requirement or whatever it is. They just sound and look gross.  My tired brain conducts a pathetic search of my on-board recipe bank for possible dinner recipes comprised of beets, pinto and kidney beans, and fails. DSC05362

If someone had told me, and I mean really laid it out for me, that by becoming a parent, I would be responsible for thinking up, creating and serving three meals a day to three people other than myself, who would regularly complain about said meals, I suspect I would have rethought the whole commitment. Like, really, WTF? Meal preparation is one of those things about which new parents just do not have enough information. Forget marriage preparation, it should be ‘How to Feed Everyone but Yourself’ classes.

Up until the moment of committing to parenthood, food preparation is actually fun. You and your partner wander around a market at 2pm on a Saturday afternoon, laze the rest of the day away, then create a gustatory masterpiece at 9pm that night which you then enjoy, just the two of you, with no interruptions. This scene is so far removed from the reality of feeding young children that it’s almost cruel. We mothers dole out servings of cereal that yesterday were just fine but today provoke the kind of reaction usually observed bedside at a particularly bad hangover. We sigh as our children fling bowls of peas across the room. We bite our tongues when our young daughters declare that today’s menu items ‘don’t really taste that good’. ‘Oh is that right’ we want to say. ‘Is that a fact’. We hold back the rest of those evil thoughts and instead warm up the leftover Mac & Cheese from yesterday. My kids are Mac & Cheese junkies. Apparently that is the one thing I can make that they just sit down and eat without sighing first. Slaving away over west coast chicken with wild chanterelles, baby bogweed sautéed lightly with essence of blackened dandelion leaves, accompanied by a coulis of lettuce, rainwater and wild duck spleen, on a bed of rat’s ass pate with squid-ink and cucumber sauce just doesn’t seem to be worth the effort anymore.

Back to the cupboard, and nothing has changed. My eyes scan the second shelf: rice, taco shells, cereal, pasta. It reminds me of a friend of mine who, in university, would ask every night ‘what’s for pasta?’ We would laugh hysterically. I still do laugh hysterically but it has a slight maniacal edge to it now. Is it wrong, I ask myself, to serve pasta for dinner 9 nights in a row? If you change up the sauce, and shape of the pasta, will they be fooled into thinking it is something different than last night’s dinner?  Millions of Italians can’t be wrong…My eyes rest on a bag of linguine and I start making stuff up: linguine al fresco con beetinis et pinto et kidnini? Maybe not. I will not make Mac & Cheese again tonight I declare to no one in particular. The can of beets winks at me.

I back away from the cupboard and sink into a kitchen chair. My 13yr old comes into the room looking hungry. He has obviously grown again in the past 5 minutes and is probably wondering what’s for dinner. Do not ask me what’s for dinner or I will be forced to kill you I think to myself. He rests a hand on my shoulder and reaches into the cupboard for a handful of crackers. Silence. Then ‘Mum can we have Mac & Cheese for dinner?’

After dinner, plates eaten clean, I hear Zoe say to Jacob ‘I love macaroni cheese’ and I think, yes, so do I.


That’s what I’m talking about...


Thanks for reading



Saturday, November 7, 2009

Lemon Gin

I do feel sorry for first-borns. I’m one myself and I’m sure that I, too, was the subject of many parenting blunders unwittingly carried out by my mum and dad as they stumbled blindly through my adolescence. It’s only now that I’m a parent of a 13yr old that I understand precisely how little they did know, and exactly how challenging this whole parenting thing can be.

Take the teenage party, for example.

I was invited to a 15th birthday party for my friend ‘Heather’. My mum and I ran into Heather’s mum in the grocery store one day before the party. ‘Mrs. R’ gave her assurance that she would be home all night and my mum was not to worry. Little did we know that ‘home all night’ meant comatose on the couch with a joint in one hand and a beer in the other while Heather’s two older brothers and all their friends whooped it up. I’ll never forget walking through their house, stepping over puddles of spilled beer and around teenagers in varying states of inebriation, wondering where exactly Heather’s mum might be so I could let her know that a) someone had thrown a planter of geraniums in the pool and it looked like the fuchsia basket was next, and b) one of Heather’s brother’s friends had just vomited into her car through an open window, the unfortunate consequence of too much lemon gin consumed in too short a time period and now making a re-appearance.

I located Mrs. R. stretched out on the couch, eyes half-closed, silly grin on her face, a pipe smoking away in her hand, and a bottle of beer nestled in the crook of her arm. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: “Mrs. R? It looks like John has maybe thrown-up in your car…”

Mrs. R: (blissfully) “Hey everybody, Jane’s here! Everyone say ‘Hi’ to Jane!”

Me: “Ummmm Hi. Mrs. R. There’s a couple of your planters in the pool, too, but John appears to have…”

Mrs. R: (merrily) “Do you have something to drink? Hey, someone get Jane a drink!”

Me: “I’m good, thanks, but I thought you might want to know about John as it’s your car that…”

Mrs. R: (cheerfully) “I’d get you one myself but I’m into this couch and I’m not going anywhere!”

Me: “Ummm…your car…”

Mrs. R: “Hey! How’s your mother? Did she stay? Is she here?”

I didn’t stick around long enough to tell her that my mother would likely rather slide bamboo shoots under her own nails than attend this party.

Fortunately even we kids were sufficiently unimpressed with the evening’s events that we self-regulated and left the party on our own accord, one of us calling a parent and deftly suggesting that we would meet them at the bottom of the driveway as it was quite steep (so thoughtful!). We skipped out of there before Heather’s mum really scared us and started ripping the labels off the cans in her own cupboard in some kind of misguided act of solidarity with the teenagers hanging out in her kitchen.

I was quizzed the next day by my mum about how things had gone and why we were all home early. I said something about there being too many people there. Later I heard her on the phone to the mum of one of my friends who had an older brother. They were discussing all the kids in our neighbourhood and who could be trusted. I know now that she was squirreling this info away, just waiting for my younger brother’s long dark teenage years ahead.

I’m not sure I have a game plan for when Jacob starts attending parties. He’s been to a few already but nothing like the ones I used to attend. I’m sure I’ll blunder through it, just like my mum did, but hopefully armed with a bit more knowledge than she ever had. Like I’m pretty sure she didn’t know about lemon gin for example. I guess she couldn’t really have anticipated the state of Heather’s mum either. And that’s the bit that worries me. What don’t I know now? I might think I’ve got it all figured out but there are clearly going to be some info missing. I also know that today’s version of Lemon Gin is probably a whole lot more dangerous. (Although there was that warning on the label about possible blindness which we never actually knew about until later as we were too drunk to read it.) I just don’t want to learn this stuff the hard way. But I’m not sure there is another way.

So when Jacob is invited to a party and tells me that ‘their parents will totally be home’, I’ll probably drive right to the end of the driveway to drop him off and I may just head right on into the living room and see exactly what ‘at home’ means. And they don’t make Lemon Gin anymore, right?

Thanks for reading