Thursday, 26 December 2013

Prairie Girl Preparedness and the Ice Storm of 2013


Both my parents can trace their lineage back to Russia, and my mother also back to Romania.  The winters were harsh and life was not easy.  People had to be resourceful, thrifty, and careful in order to be able to feed, clothe and shelter their families.  In the mid-to-late 1800's through the early 1900s, both my parents' families fled religious persecution in Eastern Europe; coming to Canada to build a better and safer life for their families.

Which leads me to the story of my Mama...she is a prairie girl - born and bred.

She comes from hearty stock, with great-grandparents and grandparents who homesteaded on the Canadian prairies in the late 1800s.  That's well before the modern conveniences of electric wiring in homes, indoor plumbing and the like.

"Saskatchewan sod house, circa 1900";
photo source: 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sod_house

Bubbie Gertie's parents - Isaac and Clara, together with their 2-year-old son William, emigrated from Russia in the 1882, and lived in a soddie, which is a house made of sod (thickly-rooted prairie grass) and mud.  My great-great-grandfather Isaac worked with the CPR - Canadian Pacific Railway - working his way from very humble beginning to ultimately open 4 retail stores in Manitoba - on Main Street in Winnipeg,  in Plum Coulee, Altona and MacGregor.  They raised a family of 7 children, including my great-grandmother, Bubbie Gertie, and helped to build not only a strong and enduring family, but strong and enduring Jewish community.

They are some of my ancestral teachers.  They taught Bubbie Gertie how to achieve the perfect balance between maintaining a budget and meeting the wants and tastes of a family.  Living in the harsh conditions of the prairies - bitterly cold winters, dry hot summers, and the occasional drought, they learned to prepare for the unexpected.

There was always canning, and preserves.  There are recipes that I have discovered but not yet had the time to make myself - jams, pickles, etc.  These items lasted for years, and rounded out meals.  There were dried goods too.  As long as they were stored properly, they never spoiled.

Here is a quick family lineage refresher for Mom's side: Zaida Isaac and Bubbie Clara were parents to Bubbie Gertie.  Bubbie Gertie married Zaida Sam and they moved from Winnipeg to Regina, where they had Bubbie Lou.  Bubbie Lou married Zaida Bernie, and they had my mother, Carol Joy.

I used to love going to my grandparents' basement in Regina.  It was not finished, but there were so many interesting nooks and crannies to explore.  There was the cedar closet - which was huge.  It smelled so different in there, and there were so many pretty dresses and gowns to discover, not to mention gorgeous furs to touch (my Zaida Bernie was a furrier).

Then there was the food storage section - which took up a third of the basement.  There were 3 upright freezers, plus a chest freezer, and at least 1 upright fridge that formed an L shape along 2 walls. Oh, and don't forget the oven and stove.  And there were 2 long tables - probably 15 feet in total, that ran parallel to the wall of upright fridges and freezers.  These tables were used for preparing baking and meals en masse.  Walk down a little further and you reach a room that was floor to ceiling shelves of dried goods and pops (soda for all you non-Canadians!).  It was so exciting to go in that room, and look at all the yummy bags of chips (I remember Ringolos), and canned spaghetti (I remember Spaghettios) and Fresca!  These were all things that I only ever saw when we were in Regina, and never knew could be had in Toronto.

Funny, as I share this with you, I think of our own basement.  I think of our cantina (cold cellar), and the chest freezer and fridge in the storage room, and realize that I don't just model myself after Carlo's parents...in fact, our storage room is virtually a replica of my grandparents' basement.

Mom had the same storage, stockpiling and emergency preparedness mentality - it came from years of living on the prairies.
  • You need to keep a candle and heavy blankets in your car trunk in case of a white out.  Why?  In case you are suddenly in a white out while driving.  The blanket will keep you warm.  The candle will tell you if the car is filling with carbon monoxide.  See Mama?  I was listening.  
  • You need to have fresh batteries in your flashlights, and big, solid, free-standing, 24-hour candles that will take you through a power failure.  
  • You need enough bottled water to last 3 days.  
  • You need crank radio in case the power is out and your batteries die.
  • You need to have an extra propane tank, or 2, for barbecuing - to cook and heat food and water. 
  • You need lots of canned goods, dried goods, and prepared foods in case there is a power failure. 
  • Have some cash money available, in case there is no way to access your bank. 
  • Keep your gas tanks full.
  • Have a land line telephone that's plugged directly into the wall - cordless phones won't work during a power failure.
So...as Y2K (year 2000) approached, and panic was rising that our computer-dependent society was going to crash if computers accidentally reverted back to 0 (1900 instead of 2000 for those of you too young to remember), my mother began preparing.  And the rest of us?  We laughed.  Seriously...like anything so archaic as a 3-day power failure could happen in this day and age?!?  Really, Carol...

But, much like The Little Read Hen, my mother kept on stockpiling and preparing for an emergency.  And Y2K finally arrived.  As midnight approached I found myself holding my breath...the clock struck midnight...and....nothing.  Poor Carol Joy...we all teased her that she was an alarmist.  And, as the amazingly good-natured person she is, she just smiled and kept on.  She replaced the water, checked the batteries, kept a little cash stash, maintained full tanks of propane and stockpiled her dried and canned goods.  

Then, one beautiful sunny summer day in 2003, August 14th to be precise, Mom was watching Sara and Becca while Dad, Davie, Carlo and I were all at work.  I was in the inner office of our building - no windows - and all of a sudden everything went black and silent.  I don't remember how we discovered that the entire Eastern Seaboard was powerless, but we did.  We all filed out of our offices into the hallways, and down the stairwells, to our cars.  We drove out of the downtown at a snail's pace - a drive that typically took 20 minutes took over 3 hours.  There were no traffic lights.  There were no subways. We gave people lifts home - others started the long walk uptown.  People got out of their cars and started directing traffic in the major downtown intersections.  We used our cell phones while we could, before circuits overloaded and lines went down.  Carlo was up north, and made it back to our place, where he stayed.  He told me to get to my parents' home and just wait it out there with the kids.  

Meanwhile, Carol Joy, the ever-prepared prairie girl, went into emergency mode.  She kept the kids entertained, opened her emergency stores, filled all the bathtubs with water (in case power failure prevented pumps from running water after a certain point), and waited for her troops to come home.

My parents were prepared, and their house became ground zero for my parents, Sara, Becca, me, Davie, Lena, and some of their friends.  Mom and Dad had so much food and water, and they took care of us all.  Mom was gracious about it, never pointing out that we were no longer teasing her.  She just took care of her family.  And, without even realizing it, I learned an invaluable lesson.  

I think it was about this time I really started laying supplies.  Our cantina stockpile grew.  Our freezers became full.  We have water, candles and flashlights.  And when I hear a storm is coming, I lay in more supplies...just in case.  

Last Saturday my cousin Michael - also grandson to Bubbie Gertie, and a prairie-prepared planning kind of person - messaged me to ask if I thought we'd really lose power with this coming ice storm.  He was in Edmonton, his family planning on meeting him there on Monday.  I told him I doubted it would be bad, but then something twigged in the back of my head, and I messaged Dad and Davie to make sure they were prepared...just in case.  

Remember, we've just moved into our new home.  Our stockpiles are low.  I went out and re-stocked everything.  Or so I thought.  Now we were ready.  

Sunday morning I awoke to power.  "See? It was hype", I told myself.  Then, at 8:45 a.m., as Becca and I were getting ready to leave for her dance performance, the lights flickered and went out.  The power was out.  

I took her to dance, and as we drove down the street, my low fuel light came on.  Panic set in as I heard my mother and husband's voices ringing in my ears...how many times have we told you not to let the gas go below a half tank?!?  All I could think about was that the power was off and there would be no way to pay for gasoline.  I dropped Becca at the theatre and they had power!!!  I drove directly to the closest gas station, passing streets with power, and some without, hoping all the while that the station would have power and I could fill up.  They had lost power, and regained it!  I was so lucky.  I filled up and made a mental note to NEVER let the tank get that low again...EVER!

Driving along the streets was so strange.  It looked both beautiful and catastrophic at the same time.  The glistening icy trees were so pretty, until you saw the huge broken limbs - fallen into the road, onto cars...

Ice Storm 2013 (22 Dec 13)
I came home to a powerless house.  We are so lucky - we have a gas fireplace on each floor, enough to keep the house temperature from falling too low.  I am not sure what we did to pass the time, but then Becca called to ask to be picked up - they'd lost power at the theatre, the alarm was going off and they had to evacuate.  I brought Becca and a couple of her friends home with us.  And we waited.

Davie, Dad and Katie had all lost power the night before.  My in laws had power and heat, but no phone or cable.  Of greatest immediate concern were Dad and Davie - they have electric fireplaces, which weren't operational. The temperature in their homes was quickly dropping. 

We offered our home to all of them...we had some heat, lots of food and tons of room.  Everyone was OK.  Kate and her kids were huddling by the fire making the best of a bad situation, Davie had moved Lena and Abby to his in laws, and Dad finally accepted our offer to come and stay here.  

By then, our power came back on.  We were so fortunate to have only been powerless for 7 hours.  Carlo and Sara dashed out to the store and laid in a supply of large glass-chimney candles, I started to bake and cook prepared foods in case we lost power again, and Becca and her friends got ready for the second dance show, in case the theatre regained power.  But it never did regain power that day.  The kids made the most of it, had a sleepover, and thoroughly enjoyed the Ice Storm of 2013.  

Meanwhile, Dad walked down 24 flights of stairs, carrying clothing and a briefcase (in case Court was open the next day - and it was) in a completely darkened stairwell.  He lost his footing when trying to make way for a child walking up the same set of stairs, fell down a flight of stairs, hit his head and banged up his knee.  Davie was walking up that same set of stairs and found him at the 11th floor, being tended to by the man whose grand-daughter Dad was making room for.  He is fine, thank goodness, and only suffered superficial cuts and scrapes.  

This storm was brutal.  Dad was without power for almost 48 hours and David for 72 hours.  Our old neighbourhood was without power for close to 96 hours.  The trials and tribulations that so many people endured to protect their families and homes from the freezing cold temperatures are both heartbreaking and heartening.

As late as yesterday, friends were still reporting being without power, their house temperature plummeting to 43 degrees.  And yet somehow, through all of this you hear amazing stories of people opening their homes and hearts to others, to keep one another going through these difficult times.  

What a story we will have to tell our grandchildren one day.  And just to close the story with a bang, literally: we came home from Carlo's parents' home on Christmas Eve, and as we were closing up the house at 11:30 p.m., we heard a loud boom and felt the house shake.  Carlo and I checked everywhere...no trees had crashed into the house, and our second-story deck had not collapsed.  It was very frightening, and made even more so by the fact that we could not find an explanation for it.  

The next morning, it was all over Facebook.  People in York Region had also felt and heard the boom, but at different times and different geographic locations!  

The mystery was finally solved last night...we experienced a Frost Quake.  Otherwise known as a cryoseism, this phenomenon often follows ice storms.  To paraphrase Wikipedia: when water seeps deep into the soil and rock, freezes and expands.  The build up of pressure and stress on the surrounding rock is ultimately relieved explosively in a cryoseism.  


To sum up, I learned some lessons during the Great Ice Storm of 2013:
  • My mother is always right, and she taught me well - follow her rules above...you'll be glad you did;
  • We need my father to live on a lower floor...in case of emergencies;
  • Plan for the unexpected...you never know when you might need it;
  • Have a land line telephone...thank you Becca, for insisting that we keep a land line when we moved, and that we have a "Golden Girls" wall phone in our kitchen; 
  • Make sure to help others wherever you can; and 
  • Respect the awesome power Mother Nature.
I am hoping that with the passing of the ice storm, settling into our new home, and the holidays being over, I can finally get back to discovering family recipes and sharing them with you.  

I wish you all a wonderful winter break, filled with power, warmth, family, fun, friends and fantastic food.  May the upcoming year bring you and your loved ones health, happiness and good fortune.  

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Discovering Rainbows after the Storm Passes

Before and After Pictures of our new kitchen...thanks to Carlo and his cousin Claudio - the Kitchen "G-ds"

It's been 6 weeks since my last post...but I've had good reason for being absent...we moved!  Wow, what an ordeal!

I have co-ordinated many moves in my lifetime, for my own home, my parents' home and my office, but none were as overwhelming as this one...

I think the difference was that this was the first move where my mother wasn't there to turn to for help, an ear and an "oooh, aaaah".    She would love this house.  There are so many nuances that remind me of my parents' homes...the swinging door that connects the dining room and kitchen; the dark wood floors; the double ovens...little reminders of a simpler time that I took for granted would never end.

For weeks on end every waking moment has been consumed with packing and unpacking, cleaning, renovating and setting up a new household, all the while trying to keep up with work, school, extra-curricular and family commitments.

There was little time to cook, no time to bake, and absolutely no time to blog!  So...we learned to live on simplified meals that were fast and easy to prepare, a fair bit of take-out fare, and store-bought baking.  Not that there's anything wrong with that - in fact, it's pretty much how I grew up once Mom went back to work full-time - but it's just not what my family has ever known.

By the time we took possession of our new house on November 8th until we closed the sale of our old house on the 18th, meal preparation came to a standstill, and take-out became the norm.  My kids, who once thought of take away meals as a treat, bemoaned mealtime - when you think about it, here's really not a lot of choice: pizza, burgers, chicken, subs, Chinese.  Finally, we found this lovely Italian bakery/restaurant around the corner, and occasionally turned to them for dinner and lunch alternatives. And thankfully my father came up on a regular basis with dinner - pizza! - my favourite!  We really appreciated not having to worry about cooking after a long day of cleaning and unpacking.

And before we knew it, Chanukah was upon us...we semi-celebrated, managing to unpack our Chanukiyah and candles, makes latkes and eating the most incredible sufganiyot that Dad brought.  The bigger celebration will be had next weekend when Davie, Lena and Abby return from vacation abroad, and I bake latkes and Chanukah cookies - better late than never!

So...I'm back...with depleted energy but growing enthusiasm.  Because once the tornadic activity of the move passed, I was left with a beautiful rainbow:
  • I rediscovered that after 18 years of marriage Carlo and I are amazing partners...we work well together, complimenting each other's strengths and bolstering one another when necessary.  He has worked tirelessly to transform this house in just 4 short weeks, making each room he paints/renovates more beautiful than the last.
  • I learned just how special our kids really are...that we're OK parents and they're amazing people.  They've been team players through it all, packing, unpacking, cleaning, moving and building furniture - yes, Sara took charge and literally built their end tables, TV stands, desk and part of a bed, with Becca as her "right-hand man" every step of the way!  Even sucking it up when dinner didn't get put down to them until 8:00 p.m. some nights, and never a complaint.
  • I made my mother smile...I told her about our new kitchen; about the swinging door from the dining room, the double ovens and all the wonderful amenities...and she smiled.
  • I realized that even though they may not say it all the time, my family really appreciate all I do. They appreciate my "clean-freak" standards, and have become clean freaks themselves, and they value my efforts to always provide healthy home cooking and baking, recognizing that "our way" isn't necessarily "everyone's way".  

Becca came home this weekend and told me that her health teacher was marking an assignment about food and eating. She asked Becca if she ate all the foods she listed in her work.  Becca told her that she did, and then went on to tell her that I make my own pasta, bake my own baking with reduced sugar and rarely purchase frozen foods. It's sinking in...

I guess that we really do lead by example, and I cannot tell you how thrilled I was to see that the lessons I once learned from my mother, and those I've learned in recent years about the connection between diet and disease, are being learned by our kids.  Sara is a fantastic, healthy cook, and Becca is right behind her.

Stay tuned for my healthier, baked latke recipe, with step-by-step pictorial, coming next week.

Until next time, I wish you all a wonderful week filled with family, fun, friends and fantastic food.  I know we could sure use some!  B'Tayavon and Buon Appetito!

Monday, 28 October 2013

Carol's Sweet and Sour Meatballs



Do you have a favourite food or cooking smell?  You know the one...it hits you as soon as you walk in the kitchen (or house), and you are instantly transported to a time long ago, one that envelopes you in a cocoon of warmth, comfort and safety?

Growing up in a household with a mother who cooked a lot meant that there were a lot of foods that evoked warm fuzzy, happy, feelings for me.  Now, as I prepare and eat these dishes, I am reminded of the happy moments of my childhood...the excitement that kicked in whenever we'd return home after a long day at school (8:30a to 4:30p plus travel time - it was a long day!) and be greeted by one of Mom's treasured cooking smells as we walked through the front door.  

One of these dishes was Mom's Sweet and Sour Meatballs.  They tasted just like the recipe name suggests: sweet...and sour.  What a fantastic combination!

Mom would let them cook, simmering slowly on a low temperature on the stove, so that the meatballs could absorb all the delicious flavours of the sauce.  It was so hard not to steal a spoonful when she stepped out of the kitchen!  

Now I am the mom, and Sara and Becca are the ones to walk into the kitchen sniffing and guessing what's for dinner.  There is no greater satisfaction for me than those moments when my kids think I'm not looking and they sneak a taste of dinner from the pot.  No worries though, there is absolutely no double dipping in our house...which means that I usually find a collection of spoons in the sink (a dead giveaway that dinner will be a hit!).  

These sweet and sour meatballs are best served piping hot, on a bed of fluffy white rice, with a fresh rye bread and...Baba Dora salad, of course!

From my family to yours, I hope you enjoy this dish as much as I do.  

Until next time, I wish you a wonderful day filled with family, fun, friends and fantastic food.  B'Tayavon and Buon Appetito!


Carol's Sweet and Sour Meatballs

Meatball ingredients:
1 lb. ground meat (beef, turkey, or chicken)
1 small onion, chopped very fine 
¼C breadcrumbs (or more if needed to hold the meatballs together)
2 tbsp ketchup
1 egg
½ tsp garlic powder, salt and pepper (or to taste)

Sauce ingredients:
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 28 oz tin diced tomatoes
4 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp canola or olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

Method:
Sauce - Crock pot version: Saute onions in olive oil until they are golden and translucent, not browned. Add to tomatoes, salt and pepper (already in the crock pot). Turn heat to high until sauce reaches a boil, then reduce temperature to low.
- or -
Sauce - Stove top version: In a large stock pot, saute onions in olive oil until they are golden and translucent, not browned. Add to tomatoes, salt and pepper. Turn heat to medium high (7) until sauce reaches a boil, then reduce heat to medium low (3 or 4).

Meatballs -  Once the sauce has reached a boil, and the stove or crock pot temperature has been reduced,combine ingredients for meatballs and roll into small balls, adding them to the sauce as you roll them - remembering to gently stir the sauce every few minutes.  Allow meatballs to simmer for 1½ hours, then add the sugar, and simmer for an additional 1½ hours.  

Serve on a bed of fluffy white rice and enjoy.  Leftovers can be frozen in the sauce.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Carol's Chicken Salad



Some of the simplest recipes are the best...and Mom's chicken salad is one of them.

As far back as I can remember, Mom would make this salad every year during Passover to use up the tons of leftover chicken.  Funny, we never thought of it as eating leftovers...it was just a treat that we always looked forward to Mom serving.  Looking back, I would have to say that my mother was a professional at making the ordinary seem extraordinary...a trick I am still working to master.  

Things are so hectic around here...the busiest and most pressured they've been for a while.  We are moving in November, and between: packing (a task I have done many times, but this time I am finding it particularly annoying); arranging for all services to be moved to the new house; and keeping up with all the usual pressures and time constraints of a young family with 2 working parents, meals are becoming a real challenge in our household.

Between the girls' schedules and our own, our standard "family meal-time" has dwindled from 7 nights a week to 4 or 5.  I know that 5 nights together each week is still a good thing...but hey, a girl can always strive for more, right?!

With all this rushing around, meals that take longer to prepare, like 1-pot roasted chicken (a Shabbat favourite), just haven't been on the menu lately.  I miss having left-over chicken to transform into something else, and so I jumped at the opportunity to take home turkey leftovers from the Bruni Thanksgiving celebration last weekend.

I had enough for 2 meals: turkey pot pie and turkey salad.  Becca was thrilled and Sara....well, Sara had other leftovers (she's not a fan - you can't win 'em all!).

This salad is great for so many reasons: it is healthy, is light but filling, and it calls for whatever ingredients you have handy in your refrigerator crisper!

I made a huge salad, served with hummus and pita on the side, and although I made extra for Becca's lunch the next day, every last bite was eaten and there were no leftovers to be had!

From my family to yours, I hope you enjoy this Chicken (or Turkey) Salad recipe as much as Becca and I do.

Until next time, I wish you a wonderful day filled with family, fun, friends and fantastic food.  B'Tayavon  and Buon Appetito!


Carol's Chicken Salad

Salad ingredients:

  • 1C-2C cooked chicken, cut into small bite-size pieces
  • 1 cucumber, diced
  • 5 celery stalks, diced
  • ½ yellow pepper, diced (you can use any colour pepper you like)
  • 3 green onions (or ¼C red onion), finely chopped
  • 1 head lettuce (iceberg or romaine), cut/torn in bite-size pieces
  • 2 - 3 radishes, cut into thin rounds

Dressing ingredients:
  • ½C mayonnaise 
  • ¼ -½ tsp onion powder (or to taste)
  • ¼ -½ tsp garlic powder (or to taste)
  • ¼ -½ tsp paprika (or to taste)
  • ¼ -½ tsp black pepper (or to taste)
  • ¼ -½ tsp salt (or to taste)
  • ¼ -½ dill (or to taste)
Method:
Combine all salad ingredients in large bowl.  You can add or omit any fresh veggies that you like to this salad.  In the spirit of the shitarein recipe (Yiddish for "thrown it in"), I just squeeze the mayonnaise on the salad, then sprinkle the seasonings over top, toss and serve.  If you prefer a more precise method, combine the dressing ingredients in a measuring cup, mix, add to salad and toss.  It's delicious either way!

Monday, 16 September 2013

One, Two, Three - Exhale...Happy Birthday Nonna!



Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaah....finally time to exhale.  The major holidays are over for another year.  I know that the Yomim Tovim continue for a couple of more weeks, but the entertaining is over for another few months.  Phew!

It's been so chaotic...every time I thought my plate was full, something else was piled on.

First we decide to list our house and get on the merry-go-round of never-ending house showings.  Who knew that 3 weeks could feel like 9?  Bravo to the familia for keeping the house spotless, darting out to facilitate showings on an hour's notice (no small feat for my wonderful hubby, who has a home office), and trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy through it all.

Then we returned from summer vacation, started a new year of classes, and 1 day later, celebrated Rosh Hashanah with a dinner for 13 here.  It was so nice to be together, with family.  As I looked around the room I thought of Mom, and how she`d have shepped nachas (drawn pleasure) from it all.

But it did not end there.  We had my mother-in-law's birthday celebrations that weekend, and I offered to make the cake.  Why?  Because I love my mother-in-law...I really do.



Losing my mother to Alzheimer`s Disease has been a slow and agonizing process for all of us.  We are witnessing a tragedy unfold in slow motion, and there is nothing we can do to stop it or to ease the pain.  No-one can ever replace my mother - no-one will have her smile, her sense of humour, her passion or her unfaltering love for her family.  When I realized that this was all lost to me, to us, I felt so alone.  The grieving process began, and the pain was overwhelming and debilitating...I felt like I was drowning in sorrow.  At the same time, my father and brother were lost in their own grief, and we could not help each other through it.  I have learned that this is one road you travel alone...no-one can ease your suffering, only time can heal that wound.

During this time, I found myself wanting to go to Carlo's parents' home more often.  When I was there I felt more at peace.  For a few hours I was nurtured and mothered.  Carlo's mom is a soft-spoken, loving woman.  We always got along well, from the first time I met her (when I was 20) and she greeted me with open arms and a welcoming hug.  But now it was different.  She just seemed to understand what I was going through, and instinctively stepped into a mothering role without trying to replace my mother.  All the while she would honour my mother, always asking for her, remembering happy stories about mom.  She loved me unconditionally, listened to me patiently, and helped me through the healing process.  She did the same with our daughters, who were reeling from the loss of their Bubbie.  I will be forever grateful to her, and I know that my mother would too, knowing that her Mechutainista (mother of your child's spouse) was stepping in to care for her girls where she was no longer able.


And so, you see, when I say I love my mother-in-law, I am not being trite...I really do.  I think of her as my second mother, and I wanted to do something nice for her, from the heart.  I wanted to make a cake that was pretty and tasty, that said "I love you".  I was planning on baking in the morning, and then heading downtown to a meeting at the Alzheimer's Society to enrol Mom in the iPod project, then to Mama B's for her birthday celebration.  As always, I wakened early.  I baked the vanilla cakes and the chocolate cupcakes, made the vanilla butter cream icing and the chocolate fudge icing, and got ready.  As I was finishing my morning routine the phone rang.  It was our Realtor, calling to see what I was doing that day.  My heart sunk...there was no way I  could leave the house for a showing before the cakes were frosted.  But it was not a booking request, an offer was coming in.  Fast forward past all the boring stuff...SOLD!

And what did I do during the "boring stuff"?  Frosted my cakes...seriously, I did.


As Carlo pointed out to me, there are so many stories to come about the new house and more importantly, the new kitchen!  Oh, how Mama would have loved this adventure we're embarking on.  She would have loved the house - it has so many little reminders of her homes in it...from the swinging door connecting the kitchen and dining room, to the double ovens, to the decks...

So, I apologize for My Mother's Treasure halting to a virtual standstill, but life is even more hectic than usual, and it doesn't look like it will slow down any time soon.  I will try to be more consistent though, sharing some new recipes and keeping you up-to-date on all the exciting events to come over the next few months.

Until next time, I wish you a wonderful day filled with family, fun, friends and fantastic food.  B'Tayavon & Buon Appetito!

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Plum Apple Kiggel and a 'Yontiff' message from Bubbie Lou


It's that time of year again...the hustle and bustle of back-to-school is upon us.  Believe me, we are ready to welcome routine structure back into our lives.  Usually, this one change keeps us on our toes.

This year, however, we have added additional pressures to the mix - Yom Tov (Jewish holy days, in this case Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year) falls very early - Erev Rosh Hashanah (eve of the holiday) fell on Wednesday September 4th!  And, if that weren't enough, we listed our home for sale, so it needs to be pristine and clean at all times (tough to do when flour is flying in the kitchen and I am preparing a dinner for 13!

So, I left my cooking to the very last minute, because there just hasn't been time to prepare the food - we've been out of the house to facilitate showings - a lot!

On Sunday, Becca and I went to Sobey's to pick up the brisket, chicken and fish for Wednesday night.  I am hopeless when it comes to choosing meat, and it is at these moments that I really wish I had paid more attention to Mama when she tried to teach me.  She loved her meat, and prepared it beautifully.  I, on the other hand, always preferred the veggies, and ignored her words of wisdom.  Today, I pay the price for my short-sightedness.   Thank goodness for my patient butcher Danny - who helps me choose the right meat every holiday.

Note to self:  remember that the brisket should always be boneless, and a single brisket is fattier and more flavourful than a double.

I look back on my holiday posts from earlier years, and recall the sadness that permeated the holidays...and I think to myself, in the words my Mom used to always say "we've come a long way baby".  The pain and profound sense of loss were so raw that I could not hold back the tears.  It's been 7 years since Mama was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease, and more than a year since she stopped actively chatting and walking.  I miss her so much it hurts...but, life goes on.

As I have said before, I see now that Mom prepared me well for life without her, and I am now comfortable in, and accepting of my role as matriarch of this family.  I embrace the traditions, and recognize that it is only through me that the Matriarchs' legacy will continue.   This is my birthright, and I will happily assume the responsibility that comes with it, as my mother and grandmothers did before me.

I cooked up a smaller storm this year, given that I was limited in my time and couldn't have too many cooking smells wafting through the house should showings pop up before Yom Tov.  But we still had a variety of family favourites (click here for the link to my menu), and I was determined to add a new recipe or two to the mix.

I find that when I am lonely for Mom, I peruse her recipes, and find something to try, which invariably brings me comfort.  This time I made her Plum Apple Kiggel.  The recipe is written in Bubbie Lou's handwriting and, true to form, she writes a little note at the bottom - which I just discovered when writing this post: "Very simple and a terrific dessert for a Yontiff Dinner!!".



Sometimes I think that the Matriarchs really are watching over me, and bring me these signs when I need them most.  Oh Bubbie Lou - thank you for this one!

Whatever you are having and wherever you are celebrating, I wish everyone a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous 5774, filled with family, fun. friends and fantastic food.  B'Tayavon, Buon Appetito and Shana Tova u Metukah!


Bubbie Lou's Plum Apple Kiggel

Ingredients:

  • 3 eggs
  • ¾C sugar
  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 1C flour 
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • 4 or 5 green apples (peeled and cut into smaller pieces (not too small)
  • ½C to 1C of dark raisins (rinsed, patted dry and coated in a little flour so they don't sink)
  • 3C plums (cut in half, make sure they are a drier plum (ie Italian plums), otherwise kiggel is too moist)
  • 3 egg whites (beaten stiff)
Method:Preheat oven to 300˚.  Mix the ingredients in the order listed above, up to the lemon juice.  Make sure to combine the baking powder and flour before adding to the egg/sugar/oil mixture.  Add apple pieces, then raisins, then plums, then stiffly beaten egg whites.    Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes to 1½ hours.  

Monday, 12 August 2013

Pasta a la Sara


My love affair with pasta is well-documented.  Everyone who knows me can attest that I will choose pasta over any other dish, and if I had my way I would serve a variation of pasta every night of the week.  Funny enough, my Italian husband  and kids tire of it...

One meal that Carlo first made for me in the early days of our marriage was pasta topped with a simple sauce made from sauteed onions, chopped fresh tomatoes and a little olive oil and garlic.  It is by far the most delicious pasta I have ever had...nothing can compare to the delicate, yet rich flavour of this dish.

Every summer Carlo grows a vegetable garden in our backyard, with tomatoes, (hot) peppers, cucumbers and herbs.  Unfortunately there is not a lot of room for more - he has worked his gardening magic and landscaped it into a mini oasis - but we still look forward to the dog days of summer so we can harvest our "crop" and indulge in the fruits of his labours.

One year when we first moved in to this house, and the girls were very young, he planted a lot of tomatoes.  I had no idea what to do with all of them - mind you, Sara and I both love eating fresh tomatoes, and as a little girl Sara would munch on them like they were apples until her little cheeks would be bright red like a doll's painted-on cheeks.

So, I decided to use up these tomatoes and make Carlo's sauteed tomato and onion pasta.  The girls devoured it!  Sara especially loved it, and would ask for it time and time again.  Soon enough this dish became known as Pasta a la Sara.  


As we approach the middle of August and fresh tomatoes are readily available and inexpensive, Pasta a la Sara has re-emerged as a staple dinner, appearing on our table at least once every other week, and always quickly devoured with appreciation.  

The best part about this dish?  There are so many - it is economical, healthy, delicious and can be prepared and on your table in less than 30 minutes! Oh, and it's pareve (neither dairy nor meat) too!

From my family to yours, I hope you enjoy this dish as much as we do.  

Until next time, I wish you a wonderful day filled with family, fun, friends and fantastic food.  B'Tayavon and Buon Appetito!

Dice your onions
Add diced onions and garlic to olive oil in large skillet
Dice your tomatoes
Add diced tomatoes to onion and garlic mixture in large skillet, saute
Keep cooking those tomatoes!
Toss and voila - pasta a la Sara!


Pasta a la Sara

Ingredients:
  • 6 to 8 large tomatoes,cored and diced (12 if you're making a 950g bag of past
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled and whole (or 1 tsp minced will work fine)
  • 2 to 3 tbsp olive oil
  • sea salt, to taste
  • 500g package of pasta (any shape you prefer, although the sauce clings better to smaller shapes)
Method:
Put a pot of water on the stove to boil.  Heat olive oil on low-medium heat.  Make sure to use a large skillet/saucepan, because your sauce will end up in this pan.  Add diced onions and garlic and saute until translucent.  Then add tomatoes and salt, stirring occasionally.  Allow sauce to simmer for at least 15 minutes (longer if you like), then add drained pasta, toss and serve.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Sweet and Sour Miami Ribs - An Anniversary Dinner

photo courtesy of www.michaelnoyes.com
Today we are celebrating our Chai (חי) anniversary. © Where did 18 years go?!?   It seems like just yesterday we were dancing to Horas and Tarantellas (each to the wrong music!).  This was the first inkling I had that our cultures and lives could be blended, relatively seamlessly.  No-one from either the Italian or Jewish guests noticed that they were dancing to the music of a different culture...everyone got up to dance together, laughing and celebrating. 

Mom was especially happy...the wedding she planned - which, at times proved a struggle, incorporating the many important traditions of 2 merging worlds and cultures - went off without a hitch.  I cannot stand party or event planning, and our wedding was no exception.  Carlo and I would have been happy with a destination wedding but, as the only daughter, there was no way my mother was having any of this mishigas (craziness, nonsense).  From the food, to the venue, to the ceremony, the entertainment and the cakes...she planned it all, patiently putting up with everyone else's impatience, ever the diplomat my mother was!

And, as a Bat Cohen (daughter of a Cohen, descendants of Aaron), she blessed our marriage with Cohen's blessing, and wished us a lifetime of happiness together.   I wish she were well enough to share in celebrating this milestone with us.

So, in our family's tradition, I asked Carlo what he wanted for our anniversary dinner...we settled on one of my family favourites - which everyone likes (but we rarely eat) - Miami Ribs!  Mom always made these beef short ribs for dinner, baked in a tangy sticky honey garlic sauce.  Served with plain white rice, a Baba Dora salad and green peas, this was one dish that everyone loved.  

From my family to yours, I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do.

Until next time, I wish you a wonderful day filled with family, fun, friends and fantastic food.  B'Tayavon and Buon Appetito!


Mom's Sweet & Sour Miami Ribs
Ingredients:

  • Miami ribs (short ribs), rinsed and patted dry (at least 4 strips per person)
  • 1 bottle VH Honey Garlic Sauce (2 if you're having lots of ribs, the sauce should cover the ribs completely)

Method:
Preheat oven to 300˚.  Placed rinsed ribs in foil-lined Pyrex dish (you can layer them on top of one another (not too many layers, though, maybe 3) and cover with VH Honey Garlic sauce.  Cover Pyrex tightly with foil and bake for 2 hours.  Remove, and serve!

Monday, 5 August 2013

Mamela's Meat Moussaka


Occasionally I fall into these annoying culinary ruts...everything in my recipe box is boring, and nothing tickles my fancy.

Mom used to have the same problem.  Back in her day, her choices were limited.  She was not computer-savvy and Facebook foodie groups were not readily available (did they even exist yet?!).  She loved watching Auntie Martha (Martha Stewart) and was a devoted subscriber to her monthly magazine.  She would also rely on me to print off recipes from Martha Stewart Living's website, which she kept in a big binder in her kitchen for easy reference.  But sometimes she wanted a change.  That's when she turned to her girlfriends for dinner ideas...Nora and Ethel are fabulous cooks with their own large arsenals of recipes...

That's how we came to discover Nora's Meat Moussaka, which we think of as Mamela's (Mom in Yiddish) Moussaka.  

Greek food has long been a favourite in our family, and my parents would often take us to the Danforth (aka Greek Town) for dinner at the Palace.  We always started with Saganaki (cheese flambe), Taramosalata (salmon roe dip) and Greek Village Salad (no lettuce, to my dismay).  Then onto main courses...while the boys restricted their dining to dairy and fish, Mom and I were the cheaters - she loved her calamari or veal chop and me...funny, I cannot remember what I would order, but it was likely the sole (my favourite fish ever).  

Come to think of it, we never tried moussaka.  I had no idea what it was...they described it as a Greek version of lasagna...but I already loved Italian lasagna and had no desire to try any other versions of it, thus it was never something I ordered.

When Mom made Nora's moussaka we were all pleasantly surprised.  It was delicious!  Bursting with flavour, and chock-full of so many ingredients, it was a meal all unto itself.  It reminded me of Shepherd's Pie, only more flavourful.  

Mom made it quite regularly, and we always devoured it.  Years later, as I was flipping through My Golden Recipes, I came across a small square piece of paper from a large pad (3 inches thick) in Mom's kitchen.  Every inch was covered in Mom's handwriting - it was entitled "MOUSSAKA - MEAT - NORA".  



I made it for my family, holding my breath as I served it - you never know which new recipe is going to get the global thumbs down and a night of heckling about my bland culinary roots - but it was a hit.  Carlo and the girls also loved this savoury version of Shepherd's pie.

The biggest "pro" with this dish is that it is a one-dish-dinner, but I don't make it too often, because it is time-consuming to prepare.  But it is perfect if you make it ahead (it will keep in the fridge for a day or two before you actually cook it) and pop it in the oven on a cold winter night.

From my family to yours, I hope you enjoy this dish as much as we do.  

Until next time, I wish you a wonderful day filled with family, fun, friends and fantastic food.  B'Tayavon & Buon Appetito!

Mamela's Moussaka
Ingredients
  • 3 medium eggplants
  • 5 tbsp salt 
  • 2 medium onions
  • ½ bunch flat-leaf parsley (or  1 tsp dried parsley)
  • ½ bunch basil (or 1 tsp dried basil)
  • 5 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1½ lbs lean ground lamb 
  • 1¼ lbs lean ground veal (I just use 3 lbs of ground veal and omit the ground lamb)
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 to 3 tbsp soya sauce
  • fresh ground black pepper (to taste)
  • salt (to taste)
  • ½C olive oil
  • 3½C thick tomato sauce
  • 6 potatoes, peeled , boiled and mashed 
Method:
Eggplant: Peel eggplant and cut in ½ inch thick slices.  Soak in combination of 5 tbsp salt ice water for 1 hour.  Drain and pat dry.  Set oven to broil, and place drained eggplant slices on a foil-lined cookie sheet.  Broil eggplant until browned.  

Potatoes: peel potatoes and cut into smaller pieces.  Boil potatoes, then mash (I use Osem chicken broth to mash mine).

Meat Filling: Peel onions and chop finely.  Saute onions in vegetable oil, then add ground meat and brown.  In a separate bowl, combine the tomato paste, soya sauce, parsley,basil, salt and pepper), then add mixture to ground meat and onions.  

Preheat oven 350˚.  Lightly grease a 9 x 13 Pyrex dish.  Starting with the tomato sauce, repeat layers in the following order: sauce, eggplant, meat mixture.  When all layers are finished, top with a layer a mashed potatoes.  Place Pyrex on a foil-lined cookie sheet (because it will likely bubble over) and bake for 25 to 40 minutes.  Then broil for 5 minutes or until top is golden brown.  

Monday, 29 July 2013

Going Gluten-Free - an (almost) adventure in cookie baking


Becca is off to a friend's cottage this week, and I want to send something with her as a token thank you hostess gift.  But she is a tween who thinks I go overboard...what's a gal to do?

I was planning on a gift basket, but Bex quickly nixed that as "too much Mom - I'm a kid and kids don't do gift baskets".  OK...why not something home-baked?  I pride myself on not doing "store bought" very often, and so buying cookies was out of the question.  We finally agreed that we'd find a unique vessel for our home-made cookies.  Off we went, to look for the perfect cookie jar.  Much like Goldilocks and the 3 Bears, some were to big and some were too small, and then, as we were about to throw our hands up in the air, give up and head out to a different store, Becca announced she'd found it!  It was a ceramic canister, with a vacuum sealed top in a nice, neutral colour.  It had a mini chalk board label on the side.  It was perfect!  Hurray Becca!

We bought the jar and off we went, back home for lunch.  And then the adventure began.  I needed to find the perfect, gluten-free cookie recipe, as they adhere to a gluten-free diet right now.  I must admit, I know little about gluten-free cooking, although I see recipes for it on Norene's Kitchen all the time and know people who follow gluten-free diets.

My girlfriend Diane, pointed out that I could buy ready-made cookie mixes that are gluten-free, then laughed as she acknowledged that I wasn't likely to do that.

After some searching, I found a cookie recipe that didn't look too complicated and the cookies in the photo look scrumptious!  Thank you Rachael Ray!

I take dietary restrictions very seriously.  While Kashruth is more of a choice over a medical need, it is something that my father and brother strictly observe and I respect that.  When they come over my meals are strictly kosher.  My mother is lactose intolerant with a white flour allergy.  My Sara is allergic to fish, and I suffer from migraine and have to avoid a multitude of migraine-inducing ingredients.  Becca and I both have friends who are allergic to nuts.  So, baking gluten-free is just another cobblestone on my culinary adventures.

I perused a few gluten-free websites and printed off lists of safe foods and taboo ingredients.  Off I went to the grocery store to pick up the ingredients for our "bakefest".  I soon discovered that going gluten-free is not so simple.  You need to ensure you don't cross-contaminate - which means gluten-free: flour (who knew there were so many kinds of flour!?!), baking soda, baking powder, vanilla, etc!

I repeatedly stopped in the aisles to Google all these different types of flour - white rice, brown rice, kamut - not one package that simply read  "gluten-free baking flour" like the recipe calls for! - and then a sinking feeling came over me as I realized that I was in way over my head.

Over the years I have learned from  numerous Passover baking disasters that adapting standard baking recipes with substitute flours and sugars does not guarantee that the recipe will turn out.  In fact, you can pretty well bet that the recipe will flop and you'll throw out the whole batch.

So, with Diane's words ringing in my ears, I reluctantly picked up a box of ready-made gluten-free cookie mix and put it in my shopping cart.  I continued to shop, cringing at the prospect of baking a boxed cookie that wouldn't taste homemade...and then it hit me - MERINGUES!  They are gluten-free and always prove to be a hit at the bake sales and dance competitions.  The ingredients are all safe and they keep well, package well, and will travel to the cottage without mushing!

So tonight, after I get home from work, I will whip up a fresh batch of Mama's Meringues to fill the canister Becca and I picked up this weekend...phew!

In the meantime, I am still determined to learn how to bake gluten-free...just because.  So if you have a simple and easy recipe for gluten-free baking, please share it in the comments below!

Whatever you're having, I wish you a wonderful day filled with family, fun, friends and fantastic food.  B'Tayavon and Buon Appetito!

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Update on Advocate (like no-one is watching, and until someone does!)

Last weekend I told you about the health challenges my parents were facing, and specifically the problems with Mom's fingers and pressure ulcers.

I am grateful to be able to report that Dad is on the mend, and while he is taking it easy - it takes weeks to recover fully from a bout of pneumonia, especially when your body is 80 years old! - and only working half-days right now, I am so relieved that he is healing, and should be back to normal in another week or two.

And then there is Mom...the Wound Clinic had prescribed topical and oral treatments for the paronychia (infected fingers) and the pressure ulcer (bedsore).  Cristy, her caregiver, continued to soak her fingers in Epsom salts, tilt her wheelchair every hour as directed, and keep her pressure ulcer wound clean and dry.

I kept calling and hounding Mom's unit clerk to find out when the follow up appointment was scheduled for, but nothing had been posted or sent to him.  On Wednesday he started to search the computer systems for me to see if he could find an appointment - in fairness, most patients do not have family members accompany them to these follow ups, so I guess advanced notice to the unit was not considered a priority.

He found that the appointment was set for the following day.  Perfect!  I let Cristy know, and made arrangements for Dad and Sara to keep the office going while I slipped out to the appointment.  (Remember, Dad can only comfortably manage about 4 hours before he is tuckered out and needs to rest, so we had to co-ordinate that he came in later that morning).

I made it to the clinic on time, and we met with the doctor.  Everything is healing!!!  Very slowly, but the redness is down in the fingers, and the infection is going away.  Her pressure ulcer is also healing, albeit slowly.  Some recommendations were made in terms of bandaging, etc., and the doctor graciously agreed to note even the simpler changes (bandages to be used, etc), on the report upstairs, because it is clear that Cristy and I have no voice there right now.

We went upstairs and I was all smiles, so relieved that things were improving.  As the porter wheeled Mom into the unit, the nurse passed us (remember, I was all smiles), and curtly nodded as she quickly walked by on her way to a patient's room, avoiding eye contact with me.  And it was then that I realized it just doesn't matter anymore.  I am modifying my approach, and ensuring that I am there for all appointments.  I will wait and see how things progress before I take this to the unit supervisor...there is no rush.  It is clear that she has been told of my concerns and unofficial complaint, and as long as quality care is provided, I can let the rest go...for now.

The important thing is that everyone is on the mend, and now life can slow down a bit, just in time for Becca's birthday, the girls' back to school preparations and Yom Tov menu planning (Rosh Hashana is the beginning of September this year!).  Better still, this means that I can get back to baking and discovering new recipes!

Whatever you're doing this lovely sunny summer Sunday, I wish you a wonderful day filled with family, friends, fun and fantastic food.  B'Tayavon and Buon Appetito!

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Persevering with Pastry and Sweet Success with Strawberry Rhubarb Pie!


My first ever attempt at strawberry rhubarb pie

If you've been following my blog, you know I am not a sweet tooth...ironic, isn't it, that I love baking?

Having grown up in a household where my mother and grandmothers baked, it is only natural that I would eventually discover the joys of baking.

The one dessert I have deliberately avoided preparing was pie.  I am not sure what recipe I used some 10 years ago when I first attempted to make a pie, but I do recall that my pastry was a complete disaster.  I am definitely from the school of "once bitten, twice shy", and never even attempted to prepare pastry since that day.  

The fact that my mother made fabulous pastry - with whole wheat flour no less! - added to my trepidation.  As far back as I can remember, my mother was the Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Maven.  I really believed that this fruit combination was unique to my family, and still feel territorial when anyone mentions making this kind of pie - knowing deep down that no-one, and no recipe, will ever measure up to my mother's pies.

I've told you in previous posts about the rhubarb growing in the garden of my childhood home, but what I only recently discovered is that my Bubbie Lou also grew rhubarb in her garden.  Recently my cousin Michael and I were reminiscing, and I mentioned my plans to finally make the family pie.  I recalled how Mom grew rhubarb in our garden, and he remembered Bubbie Lou having it in her garden too!  

I decided that I'd run out of excuses and it was time to face my pastry fears head on.  

Around this time I was visiting our neighbours when Ali decided to show me his amazing fruit and vegetable garden.  He came to one plant and asked me if I had any idea what it was...I did, it was rhubarb.  He was so surprised that I recognized it, and so I filled him in on my lifelong connection to rhubarb.  Ultimately we struck a deal - he'd supply the rhubarb and I would show his wife - my friend - Teresa, how to make the pie.  

Ali harvesting the rhubarb from his garden
We made a date for the following week - he would harvest the rhubarb and Teresa would bring it over for a pie-making girls' night.

Now the pressure was on.  I knew that I had to have at least 1 trial run before I undertook the task of teaching someone else how to bake a pie, especially given my history with pastry.  So I decided to bake a pie to take to Marisa and Tony's (along with the dessert jello).  For the filling, I used the family recipe strawberry rhubarb compote, and I pulled out Bubbie Gertie's recipe for pastry (contained in her Apple Pie recipe).



The pastry dough was so simple!  I could not believe that it only called for 4 ingredients (it's pareve!), blended effortlessly, rolled out beautifully an transferred to the pie plate with ease.



The only mistake I made was not completely draining the compote mixture before filling the bottom crust.  In fairness to me, I did use a slotted spoon, but it was still...there is no subtle way to put this - drenched!  Unfortunately, this means that my pie was soggy, which dampened my spirits.  But then again, that's why I had a dry run (excuse the pun) before my pie-making play date.

So, 2 Wednesday nights ago, Teresa came over and we had a blast!  We made the pastry and the compote, and this time I made sure we actually strained the excess liquid (which totalled more than 6 cups).   We baked our pies, and my friend who had never baked a pie in her life, made a tremendously better-looking pie than mine!  No worries, they both tasted delicious.  

Cooking the strawberries, rhubarb and sugar
Filling the pie with fresh, juicy fruit
Teresa's pie
My pie
The final, baked product!

So from my family to yours, I hope you enjoy this pie recipe as much as I do.
Until next time, I wish you a wonderful day filled with family, fun, friends and fantastic food.  B'Tayavon & Buon Appetito!



Bubbie Gertie's Perfect Pastry

Ingredients:
  • 3C ordinary flour (sifted 1 or 2 times - although I never actually sifted mine)
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1C shortening
  • ½C ice cold water
Method:
Combine dry ingredients, add shortening and then water (a little at a time, until you reach the right consistency).  Dough should roll into a ball easily, not sticking to your fingers.  This recipe will make 2 pies (4 portions of dough).

The Matriarchs' Rhubarb & Strawberry Compote

Ingredients
  • 4C rhubarb (washed, unpeeled, cut into pieces OR you can use frozen)
  • 1½C granulated sugar
  • 4C strawberries (washed, hulled and halved OR you can use frozen)
Method:
Wash rhubarb and cut in pieces.  Do not peel.   In medium saucepan, combine 4 cups of rhubarb with 1½ cups of granulated sugar.  Cook over low heat (Bubbie Gertie says on a very slow burner) for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  While the rhubarb is still whole and just starting to break apart, add strawberries and cook gently for a few more minutes.  Cool and store in fridge.  This recipe can be frozen for later use. 

Mom's Strawberry Rhubarb Pie 
Method:Preheat oven to 450˚.  Divide dough into 4 equal portions.  Roll out 1 portion of dough on a lightly floured sheet of wax paper to desired size.  Lightly spray your pie plate with Pam.  Gently flip the pie plate so it is face down above the dough.  Carefully inch the sheet of wax paper with the dough off the counter enough to get your hand in the middle of the paper/dough and flip the pie plate and dough over so the pie plate is right-side up.  Position the dough/paper in the pie plate and then pat the dough onto the pie plate, leaving enough dough to cover the lip of the plate.  Using a fork, dock (pierce) the dough a few times along the bottom of the plate.  

Fill the pie with the drained compote mixture.  Repeat the process of rolling the dough onto a sheet of wax paper, then gently flip on top of the fruit filling.  Make sure to roll out the dough to a large enough circle to cover the edges of your pie plate.  Using a dull knife, cut away excess dough, then pinch the top and bottom edges together to form a seal.  Cut some air holes on the top of the pie in any design you prefer.  Bake at 450˚ for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350˚, and bake for an additional 35 to 45 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and flaky.  

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Advocate (like no-one is watching, and until someone does!)

Carol Joy in her 30s
This road is difficult for all of us...especially for Mom...

She cannot move or control her body.  Her means of communication has been reduced to smiles, mumbles, gasps and winces.  She is my mother, and now that Alzheimer's Disease has stolen her voice I feel a duty to make mine heard much louder and clearer than before.

Much as it pains me, I know it is important to share the sad moments with you too, to give those just embarking on this roller coaster ride an idea of what to expect.  I wish someone had prepared me for what was coming...I think it would have given me the unspoken permission I need to feel sad, relieved, frightened and angry...all the while knowing I am not alone.

Things continue to decline.   Mom cannot even squirm to adjust herself in her wheelchair.  She cannot tell us if she is in pain other than to gasp or cry out.

New problems have surfaced over the past couple of months, which are exacerbated by her diabetes and Paratonia...she has developed her first pressure ulcer (aka bedsore) and while it's not infected, it's also not healing.  She also has these inflammations on her middle and ring fingertips on one hand.  They look sore and she winces when they're touched - which is often because they need to keep her fingers limber by placing them in splints.

I keep asking for them to be looked at - sounding more and more like a broken record.  She's been on a couple of rounds of antibiotics with no success.  They tell me there is no infection.  While I am not a doctor, I know something is wrong and this is not normal.  Everyone tells me the fingers just look like that now, that this is a normal side effect of the progression of her disease, that it is "not their department" - you need to speak with "so and so" in "such and such" department.  So I have been asking....the Occupational Therapist, the Nurses, the ATC staff, the doctor, the PSW and the Paratonia Study Doctor.

I have worked together with Mom's caregivers: Mildred, and Cristy, who is covering Mildred's maternity leave.  They work tirelessly to keep her nails short and to soak her fingers in Epsom salts thrice daily. They keep her dry and clean and the bedsore covered.  Nothing is working.

A couple of weeks ago a new face (to me) appeared in Mom's room when Becca, Dad and I were visiting. She was bringing in new saline and gauze for use on Mom's bedsore.  I asked her about Mom's fingers.  She pleasantly told me that they are not infected, that this is a Paratonia issue, and I need to deal with that department.  I explained that each department tells me to speak with someone else, and appealed to her for help.  She told me to ask for a family meeting, that they cannot keep giving my mother antibiotics or she'll end up with C. difficile.  I said I don't want antibiotics, or to tell them how to treat this - but look at her hand - we need to do something!

Carol Joy in her late 30s/early 40s
Let me stress that I was polite and pleasant.  Becca is my harshest critic and tells me whenever I am snooty or clipped,  and she found no fault with my manner that day.   But somehow I made a bad first impression.  Now, when I walk into the unit, I get the once-over...you know the one - where they look you up and down with just a hint of attitude, like in high school when you walked past the popular mean girls?  Oh well, it was juvenile then and it still is, and I couldn't care less...except that my mother needs help, and now that I am seen as a pain, I'm afraid she's going to get even less help...

But I am a tough broad - my mother taught me well.  The following morning I called for a family appointment and insisted that ALL departments be represented at the meeting so we can get to the bottom of this.  Then I bought Epsom salts for Cristy to soak Mom's fingers.  I also asked her to ask the nursing staff for polysporin for the fingers...this request was flatly refused, citing that my mother is not a burn patient and polysporin is for burns...OK...so I bought our own tube of polysporin!

In the meantime, the ATC staff called me to find out why I called them into the meeting.  I explained the problem.  Bless her...she listened.  (Let's call her my ATC Angel).  She told me that bedsores are not normal, and arranged to see Mom before her next Botox appointment.  She said not to do anything before she looked at Mom's wheelchair, etc.  She arranged for the OT to be there.
Mom & Dad, newlyweds in the mid 1960s
Monday noon came and I closed the office (Dad was now really sick in bed with his "cold") and went off for the appointments.  Sara came with me.  We went to meet my ATC Angel.  She spent a lot of time with us, re-adjusting the wheelchair settings that should never be changed (ugghh!), teaching Cristy exactly how to tilt and support Mom in the chair, and then it happened.  She touched Mom's hand.  Her gasp stunned us all... ATC Angel looked at Mom's fingers and confirmed that it definitely was not normal!  And at the end of the appointment she looked up at me as she wrote her report and said I was right...that my concerns were valid and I need to trust my instincts.  I started to cry...they were tears of relief.  After 2 months of asking for help, and being told she was fine, I began thinking that I was the problem...now I had confirmation from someone in the know that it was not me being difficult.

On to the next appointment ...the Botox follow up...this was a crucial meeting, especially because everyone is telling me that Paratonia is the root cause of her fingers being inflamed, etc..  I learned a lot at this meeting... most of all that I need to be present a lot more.  They need to see my face, even if it annoys them.  I cannot rely on others to take the reigns and ensure that appointments are made and follow ups are done.

It turns out that a referral to Dermatology was made by the Botox Clinic following the May 27th visit, when the doctor determined my mother was suffering from Paronychia (ingrowing of the nail from the sides).  No visit ever happened.  I have yet to determine if an appointment was even made.  I was not at that Botox appointment.  It is hard for me to close up my office each time and run to routine appointments - our clients rely on me to be there during business hours.   But clearly, I need to be at the appointments to advocate.  Now I am worried and guilt-ridden.  The doctor came in and tried to look at Mom's hand.  Another gasp - these aren't dainty little gasps, but full-out cries of pain.  The doctor confirmed what I knew...there is something really wrong with her fingers.  They should not look that way.  They are inflamed and likely infected and need to be seen by a doctor who deals with wounds.  The problem is not Paratonia, although the "paralysis" of the fingers does not help it.

Our ATC Angel and Botox doctor both said that Mom needed to be seen by the wound clinic - I didn't even know there was such a clinic.

I got home and immediately called Mom's attending physician.  I no longer feel comfortable turning to the nurse for help - she obviously views me as a troublemaker.  He agreed that Mom has paronychia, but attributed it to the Paratonia.  I asked him to humour me and make a referral to the wound clinic.  To his credit, he agreed.

Life went on...Dad was still really sick and getting worse...so Sara and I dropped the polysporin to Cristy on Tuesday and then picked up Dad to take him to the doctor.  His breathing was shallow...something was not right.

TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS...I need to remind myself of this...the doctor said it was likely pneumonia, and we needed to get a chest X-ray right away and get him on antibiotics.  We dropped Sara at home, headed to the lab, got his X-ray, grabbed a quick bite to eat a Centre Street Deli (where I had not been since I was last there years ago with both my parents) and then filled the prescription.  I got Dad settled at home, with home-made chicken soup with lokshen, jello, etc., and went home to fall into bed.

The next morning they confirmed it was pneumonia.  Oy and vey!  I had 2 sick parents, an office to keep running, and a brother out-of-town on business!  That's when I need to tell you that I am blessed.  I have a husband who steps in, no questions asked, and does what needs to be done so I can do the same. Carlo is my rock, my best friend and this week - my salvation.

So, between running to my Dad's to make sure he was OK, and keeping the office running, I was a little tuckered out.  And then on Thursday I got a text from Cristy.  It was 12:39.  Was I coming to the wound clinic appointment?  WHAT?!?!?  I had no idea there was an appointment.  No-one told me.  It was at 1:30.  I had a Bell repair technician in my office and a client coming to drop off important documentation.  So I said I would try to be there.

For those of you who are not GTA (Greater Toronto Area) residents, allow me to explain.  It is a 45 minute drive from my home to my parents' respective homes.  Depending on rush hour, it is the same drive to my office these days (thank you urban sprawl).  It is a 20 to 30 minute drive from my office to Mom or Dad's places.  And coming home from their places during rush hour is a 60 to 90 minute drive.

So...I MADE IT!  The Matriarchs must have been shining down on me, because I was in the examination room 5 minutes before the doctor came in.  I saw the bedsore.  My heart broke.  This is my mother.  The woman who gave me life, and sustained me through 9 + 1 operations (one I was in my 30s), through heartbreak and celebrations, who loved me with every fibre of her being.  And look at her now.  I pray she does not know what is happening to her...

The Wound Clinic doctor confirmed what I knew all along...she has an infection in her fingers, and a bedsore that won't heal but thankfully is not infected.   The doctor prescribed topical treatments for both, and a different antibiotic for her fingers - BECAUSE THEY ARE INFECTED.  The joke is that they looked ten times better at this appointment because of Cristy's relentless efforts to soak her fingers, dressing them with polysporin I brought in after my request for some was refused.

As we waited for the porter to help us back to Mom's room, I gently stroked her head, and kissed her forehead, all the while telling her that it was going to be OK now...we finally got help, and the hurting will stop.  I told her not to worry, that I was a tough broad, just like she taught me, and I will not let her be forgotten.  She looked up at me with clear eyes and smiled.  And as this moment unfolded, I remembered lying on a hospital bed, scared and hurting, with my mother (and father) stroking my head and telling me it would be OK, that they would make sure of it.

Mom and me...once upon a time, when she was my advocate


I put a call into Mom's unit clerk about this yesterday.  He assures me that this nurse is one of the best they have, with a heart of gold.

Maybe she is, maybe we got off on the wrong foot.  I don't want to go after anyone and have them punished. I don't need another best friend - I have enough, thanks.  I just want my mother to be cared for, and her suffering to be acknowledged, taken seriously and alleviated wherever possible.

So I am taking my concerns to the floor supervisor. While no-one needs to like me, they have a professional duty to ensure my mother is cared for.  They have a duty to take the time to listen to her family's concerns, to document them, and to seek appropriate care.  If they are not authorized to dole out medications or salves, they still need to note the request and bring it to the attention to someone who is authorized to do so.

And Dad...he is improving daily, thank G-d.  He is a tough cookie, and not much keeps him down.  But I am cooking for him, making sure that he has healthy, home-made meals to help him regain his strength and recover from the pneumonia.

What's the lesson I've learned from all this? ADVOCATE, and keep advocating...and trust your instincts...because eventually someone will hear you, and help.