Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Spinach Quiche...searching the treasures for Dad's Birthday Brunch

My first quiche...from scratch - thanks Mom!

It's been a hard winter...

Not just the weather, which has been "punishing", as my mother would have said, but we've lost my uncle, and in losing him I feel like I've lost a vital connection to my mother.

Only now, in his passing, have I come to understand the huge part he played in helping me to deal with losing and re-losing my mother to Alzheimer's...he was her childhood memories, the stories of her youth...somehow he was keeping her history alive.  And now that all feels lost to me.

It is as though I am the only one left with the memories of their shared youth, and they are stuck inside my head, all cluttered and disorganized.  I know I just need time to heal and process everything, and that my mind and heart will slow down, and I will be able to share them all...I need to share them all...because although right now it is not important for my kids, one day, in what will seem like the blink of an eye, they will be starved for those memories as I am today, and I want to make sure that they are waiting and ready for them when that day comes.

So please bear with me as I walk a renewed path of grief...longing for what was and mourning the loss of a life that is no more...and join me as I try to rediscover my mother, her brother and their family through notes, pictures, recipes and newspaper clippings.

All the while I must remind myself daily of the tremendous blessings in my life - my living family.  I have my children, my husband, my brother, my father.   Yes, thank goodness my father is alive and well and by the time you read this, we will have celebrated his 81st birthday!  And I am so grateful that he is strong, and so with it - he is still a full-time practicing trial lawyer and an example of how I want to be at his age - active, alert, and independent.

As always, celebrating a simcha (happy occasion) signals me that it is time to give my kitchen a work out!  Carlo says time and time again, cooking and baking are my healers, and what perfect timing this simcha is...but I still needed that special recipe for our brunch...I made the usual array of salads and chelsea buns (mmmm), but I needed something else...what to make?  I pulled out Mom's Golden Recipes for inspiration, but those recipes are a jumble of loose pages right now...so I started sorting through them, from the top down...and about 5 recipes in I saw my Mama's beautiful writing on a scrap of paper entitled "Recipe for Spin. Quiche"...

Do you think it is a sign?  I'd like to think so...spinach quiche goes perfectly with an assortment of salads, lox cream cheese and bagel, and is made all the more perfect because it is my mother's recipe.

So I made it...and it was pretty good for a first try...although I will modify it for future servings and have adjusted the recipe here to reflect the modifications (too much spinach). 

As I served it, I noticed Dad wasn't taking any!  Why?  He doesn't eat quiche!  What are the chances?!  No worries, he tried a piece when he realized it was Mama's recipe that I'd made especially for him...and he sorta liked it.

So from my family to yours, I hope you enjoy this recipe, and I wish you a wonderful day filled with family, fun, friends and fantastic food.  B'Tayavon and Buon Appetito.


Carol's Spinach Quiche

Ingredients (Filling) 

  • 1 package chopped frozen spinach - cooked, drained and cooled
  • ½C grated parmesan cheese
  • 6 eggs, beaten
  • 6 tbsp heavy cream
  • salt and pepper to taste

* For the pie pastry recipe, click here.

Method
Preheat oven to 350°.  Prepare pastry recipe, and place in greased pie plate.  Combine filling ingredients and fill pie plate.  Bake for 30 minutes and serve hot.

** if you have leftover pastry dough you can refrigerate or freeze it by wrapping it well, first in wax paper and then in freezer bag. It will keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge and a few months in the freezer.

Monday, 24 February 2014

A&W - A Mom Memory Moment

It's so weird how something so benign, so simple like a fast food restaurant can turn out to be a recurring theme in a family....

Growing up we used to go to Regina for most vacations - I know, it doesn't sound like the ultimate vacation spot, but it was a blast for us - we had our family there, and I had my best friend Katherine just down the street.

As soon as my luggage was dropped off in my bedroom I would run into the kitchen and dial Katherine's number.  She run right over and we'd spend the remainder of my visit together, virtually inseparable. 

One of the first things we'd do was walk over to A&W on Albert Street for some fries with seasoned salt and a tall mug of cool, frosty, root beer.  Mmm.  I can taste the salty fries now!

This is the actual A&W Restaurant that we used to go to
at 4615 Albert Street (near Parliament Avenue) in Regina

This was our routine, and it never changed.  As far as I knew, there was no A&W in Toronto, and I thought it was the most amazing fast food restaurant ever.  I didn't know you could purchase seasoned salt (until I was in my teens) and assumed this was their magical secret recipe.  So A&W, Regina and seasoned salt all go hand in hand for me.

At home we even had some A&W mugs in our cupboard - 2 little ones that are still sitting in my father's kitchen cupboard to this day.  Davie and I loved having our dinner drinks in those mini mugs...forget the fact that they only held about 4 ounces of liquid - they were the coolest things ever!

Fast forward to adulthood.  Now I see A&Ws all over the GTA (Greater Toronto Area), and I have seasoned salt in my pantry, although I avoid it like the plague, being the salt addict that I am. 

Jimmy and I were talking a while back and he was telling me that when he used to come to Toronto he would find an A&W and take Mom there - she loved it, and they would have teen burgers - their favourites - together.  I never realized my mother loved A&W.  I thought it was just my thing.  Apparently they used to indulge in A&W all the way back into their own childhoods.  Go figure...

During one of our long chats, Jimmy mentioned how much he loved the A&W Teen Burger.  So, when we were out in BC to visit him in January, we made sure to bring one back to him.  And he did enjoy it!

So now, in remembrance of "What Was", every January 14th and May 26th (their respective birthdays), I will indulge in a memory moment and have a teen burger and fries with seasoned salt, and raise a cool frothy glass of root beer to my Mama and Jimmy da Guy.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Visiting Victoria...and Grandpa Stan's Best Ever Battered Fish and Chips


I wrote the post that follows while visiting my family in Victoria, but somehow it just didn't feel right to share it then. We were caught in a whirlwind of emotions and it felt like we were losing our beloved Jim so much faster than any of us had been prepared for...

So I share this with you now, as I remember my treasured uncle, who has joined my Matriarchs in the world to come, and is now pain-free and at peace.


Grandpa Stan's Crispy Battered Fish and Chips 

I haven't been blogging or trying new recipes over the last few months...a lot has been happening in my world...we moved into a new home, we experienced the Great Ice Storm of 2013, and our family have been circling their wagons a little closer as one of our own has been battling cancer.

You know how you remember exactly what you were doing when Kennedy was shot, or when 9-11 happened, etc.?  I have a few more of those moments ingrained in my mind's eye, and finding out that Jimmy has cancer is one of them.

I've already told you about my beloved Uncle Jim in an earlier post about mun bagel.  It does not matter who you ask: Dad, Carlo, Davie, Sara, Becca, Lena, Abby, and of course - me, we will all tell you that Jim is one one of the kindest, purest souls we've ever known in our lifetimes.  He is a generous spirit and always puts others ahead of of himself.   I am so blessed to have him, and I know my life is so much better for it.

And so, we - Carol Joy's family - went to Victoria to spend a week with Jimmy and Barb (my aunt, and Jim's rock), their kids and Barb's parents, Stan and Rose.  And what a week it's been.  Lots of reminiscing and laughter interspersed with the occasional teardrop, and so many wonderful talks.

The view of the BC Parliament Building
 from just outside our hotel
Essentially it's just been about family...and for me this trip proved very spiritual and healing.  I feel so fortunate to have been given such a gift - to have spent my days with the people I love, cocooned and buoyed by the powerful bond we share.

When we first got the news that Jimmy wasn't well I told Carlo that I felt so helpless and lamented on the distance between us - if only we lived closer I would run right over with some chicken soup, etc.  Carlo stopped painting Becca's room, looked right at me and asked what was stopping me?  He said to "bake and ship".  Well, at that point we had no kitchen and were right in the middle of our move.  But I knew he was right.

When this trip came to fruition, out came Bubbie Lou and Mom's cookbooks.  My aunt Barb generously handed over her kitchen, even though she kept trying to make me relax instead of cook - although eventually she realized that cooking relaxes me .

And then the nicest thing happened...I discovered that Stan and Rose are foodies!  My cousin Jessica (aka Jessie) had been texting me about the delectable fish and chips that Grandpa Stan makes and promised that when I came to Victoria he would make them for me.  Well...he did one better...he let me be his sous chef, shared his recipe and gave me permission to blog about it!

I love fish and chips...it is the most delicious dish ever...but Sara is allergic so we do not eat it often - usually waiting until she is out for the evening.  This recipe for fish and chips is so easy, and so delicious.  You can use any fish - we ate cod, but you can use halibut, sole or salmon (apparently salmon fish and chips is all the rage), and this batter will also work well on seafood, chicken, or even onions to make onion rings! Whatever you like to batter and fry...go for it!

The Master directing his protegee
We spent a good hour and a half making homemade fries, fresh pacific halibut, homemade tartar and cocktail sauces.  What a wonderful time we had.  Stan was a patient and fun teacher.  I learned the secrets of deep frying - how to make sure the fish is pat dry before priming it with seasoned flour, then battering it and gently ease the fish into the hot oil so it doesn't stick to the bottom, how to touch the very tip of the fish when placing it in the oil so you don't end up with a batterless patch of fish...

I found my heavy heart lifting and remembered what Carlo said to me as he was driving me to the airport..."just cook and bake (for Jimmy) a lot Nomi - you'll feel better"...he knows me so well.

We all sat down to dinner together, our family of 9, and our table was filled with laughter, love and some pretty delicious food (if I say so myself!).  It was a night to remember - and I will...all my days.

I want to extend a special thanks to Grandpa Stan for graciously allowing me to share his recipe, and our cooking experience with you.

Stan and Rose's original
recipe card for Crispy Batter
From my treasured family to yours, I hope you will enjoy this fabulous fish and chips recipe as much as we did.  Until next time, I wish you a wonderful day filled with family, fun, friends and fantastic food.  B'Tayavon and Buon Appetito.


Grandpa Stan's Best Ever Battered Fish 

Ingredients:

  • 1 package fish (cod, halibut, or any fish, chicken of your choosing) 
"Primer" Ingredients (Seasoned Flour Base):
  • 1C flour (all purpose is fine)
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp salt
Crispy Batter Ingredients:
  • 1C flour 
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • ½ tsp salt 
  • 1 tbsp canola oil 
  • 1C water

Method:
  1. If you are using frozen fish, let it thaw completely.  Remove fish from packaging, drain excess liquid, cut into individual portions (approximately the size of your hand) and pat dry.
  2. Combine the dry ingredients that make up the "primer" coating in a large Ziploc bag.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, combine all dry ingredients for the crispy batter, blending well, forming a well in the middle.  In a measuring cup combine the water and oil, then slowly add the liquid to dry ingredients, blending well with a whisk.    
  4. Fill large stock pot to the ½-way mark with oil and heat until the occasional bubble rises to the surface - do not allow the oil to reach a gentle boil.    
  5. Preheat oven to 175°.  Line a baking dish (or Pyrex) with paper towel for blotting
  6. While oil is heating coat the individual pieces of fish.  Dredge the primed fish through the batter, holding the fish by the tip.  Don't be afraid to get your fingers battered!
  7. Before the oil has reached a gentle rolling boil, gently ease the fish into the oil.  It should pop up to the surface within 10 seconds.  Do not place too many pieces of fish in the pot at one time, it reduces the temperature of the oil (5 or 6 pieces at most).  Watch the pot, and turn when the batter appears a golden brown.  
  8. Remove each piece as it reaches a golden brown colour, and place on paper towel-lined baking dish, then put in oven.  The paper towel will not burn provided your oven is set to 175°. Once all the fish is removed, allow the oil to warm up before adding the next batch of fish.  Repeat until all fish is prepared.  

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Jim ♥

"It all ended too soon".

Alzheimer's disease took hold of my mother very quickly.  I saw the warning signs early on, as I did with my grandmother before her - strange behaviours that were so out of character and could not be explained - but by the time we finally secured a diagnosis, the disease was aggressively consuming my mother.

One day Mom's case worker Cheri came to the condo to meet with us, and she asked Mom what she was feeling.  With little expression (yet another thing that Alzheimer's robbed her of) she said: "It all ended too soon".  I can still see Mom sitting in the living room with the winter sun streaming in through the floor to ceiling windows as she stared straight ahead...and my heart broke.  I didn't want this all to end...I wasn't ready for this all to end...I didn't know how to stop it and I was so scared to see her so scared.

Funny how life works...as Mom's condition worsened her brother Jim started making a point of coming in to Toronto to visit her every few months.  He would stay at the condo, they would spend their days together and come visit the rest of us.  He was always loving and patient.  They would do little things...like go to A&W for a bite of lunch...something that they had enjoyed when they were younger.

And then Dad got sick.  Davie and I started making calls to let people know that Dad was going in for an emergency bypass and Mom was being crisis-placed into long-term care (her Alzheimer's was galloping and Dad could not return home if she was there - it was a health risk), all on the same weekend.

Within hours of calling Jim, he called me back.  His flight was arranged, he would come in from Vancouver on the Friday and he would help us through Mom's placement and then through Dad's surgery.  No-one asked him to come.  He just did it.  He knew we were alone, and he stepped in to care for his sister's kids.

He stayed with us during the endless hours of surgery, sitting, waiting, worrying...all the while comforting us.  Things changed that trip.

We were always close with Jim.  He was a wonderful uncle.  So loving and nice and without airs.  I remember always feeling safe with him.  And what a sense of humour.  As a little girl I would call him Uncle Jim.  He would respond by calling me Niece Naomi.  He was just plain Jim.  No pretense, no attitude.  Hanging out with him was always fun, we could just be ourselves...it didn't matter if David ran wild or if I was a little sucky, he loved us unconditionally.

My mother always adored him.  He was her "Jimmy Da Guy".  They were born 4 years apart, and grew up together in Regina, going to the same high school - Central Collegiate.  As far back as I can remember, her face would light up when his name was mentioned, and in the later years she would get so excited at the mere mention of his name,  her whole face brightening when he walked into her room.

Things changed in that summer of 2009.  After Jimmy returned home, he started calling more frequently, and the calls lasted longer.  What had always been a good and loving relationship grew into something more.

Jim became my mentor.  He became my dear friend.  He helped me through the devastating ongoing loss of my mother to Alzheimer's, and saved me from drowning in the abyss of grief that was consuming me.  We could relate to each other.  We had so much in common...too much to start listing here.

I loved our conversations...he would always include a story from the past - he knew I was writing this blog, and that I was desperately trying to reconnect the dots from yesteryear...so part-way through the conversation - out of the blue - he would tell me a story about my mom, or their Zaida Sam, or Bubbie Gertie.  It was like waiting for the prize in a cereal box...the cereal was delicious and thoroughly enjoyable, but you knew at some point the prize would suddenly come pouring out.

He taught me to stand up for myself, and not to get mired in duty and obligation.  He taught me to listen to my inner voice and to believe in myself.  He loved me unconditionally.  And so I loved him...unconditionally.

As time went on and Mom's condition worsened he continued to come to Toronto.  He stayed with us.  Becca happily vacated her room for Jimmy's visits.  They were an event we looked forward to.  It was hard for him to get away.  My aunt had been sick and he did not want to leave her, and they were growing their newly acquired business.  But he made the trips in to see his sister and her family when he could.  They were wonderful times spent together.  And when the trips had to stop, the calls increased in frequency. With me and with our daughters.  The cards came for every occasion - birthdays and holidays were never forgotten.  He had adopted Carol's family as his own.

Last summer we came to look at this house.  When we walked upstairs and saw the 4th bedroom we all agreed unanimously that it was "Jimmy's Room".  Finally Jimmy Da Guy would have a room of his own when he came to stay!  We told him about it excitedly, and then informed him that he would have to share it with Jack, who we were torn up about moving away from.  No problem said Jimmy.

On the day we closed this house, November 8th, I got a call at the old house as I was rushing to change from work and take the girls over to the new place.  It was Jimmy.  I told him he had 2 minutes to talk while I changed because we had just closed the new house...and in that moment life changed forever.

I could hear it in his voice.  He offered to call back later when it was a good time.  I declined - talk to me Jimmy.  My heart sunk.  I thought something happened with my aunt.  Time slowed as he told me that he hadn't been feeling well...they'd just found out...he had cancer.  We talked, Jimmy, Barb and I.  They gave me details and facts and promised to keep me posted.

The next month was a whirlwind.  I am not one to go online and self-diagnose.  I know you can get a lot of misinformation that way.  So I waited to hear the information, diagnoses, etc. directly from Jim.

At first the calls remained frequent.  But I listened differently.  I absorbed every word, and lived fully in the moment, keenly aware of how finite time is.  He still told me stories, but there was an urgency to get them out now.  We talked about his family...oh how he loved his family.  His wife, my aunt Barb, his kids Jessica and Adam, and their families.  He would tell me stories about them all with such pride in his voice.

Then, in one specific call some of the filters came off and he was even more honest than before.  He couldn't sleep and would call me - 4 a.m. in British Columbia is 7:00 a.m. in Toronto - and we'd chat.  I said I wanted to talk as long and as often as he was able, but that he needed to tell me if it was too much and I would understand if we needed to cut a call short.  He said that he "loved talking to me, not just because he loved me, which he did, but because I sound just like his sister".  It was in that moment that I realized that Jimmy and I helped to heal each other from the resounding, ongoing loss of Carol.

I stopped calling first.  He was so tired and we agreed it was best if he called me when it was a good time for him.  Then those calls slowed...he was tired and slept often.

The last story he shared was during a call in mid December.  I was standing in the kitchen at the "Golden Girls phone" (the wall phone) and he told me how he got the nickname "Jimmy Da Guy".  In Regina, there was a sports stadium then-called Taylor Field, now known as Mosaic Stadium at Taylor Field.   My Regina family love football and are huge Saskatchewan Roughriders fans.  Zaida Sam used to attend the games, and the ticket taker (this is back in the 1940s and early 1950s) was a man they all called Jimmy Da Guy.  My uncle Jim was a little boy and Zaida Sam started calling him by that moniker.  It stuck and I still call him that to this day.

In January we got a call that Jimmy's condition was worsening...it was time to come out and see him while he was still well enough to have a meaningful visit.  Dad, David and Naomi went out to Victoria on January 17th.

We spent a week with Jimmy and Barb, my cousin Jessica and her partner Alex, Barb's parents Rose and Stan, and on the last night, my uncle Van (Mom and Jim's brother).

I brought Bubbie Lou's recipes...the Rabbi talked about being born into the world and being born out of it. I wanted Jim to experience the food flavours and smells from the beginning of his life at the end of his life.  Jessica made him his favourite cookie - mun bagel.  He ate them and I saw the pride in his smile when he realized that his precious daughter, who does not bake, baked them for him.  Rose and I made him hamentashen - Bubbie Gertie's recipe, and he ate those too.  He had been asking for that recipe since he first got sick...repeatedly telling me how he and Barb were craving them.  It was a little thing, but I'd like to think that it made him happy.

We said what we had to, we said our goodbyes...we got that chance - something that none of us could do with Mom because she was so afraid.  Jimmy generously gave us that chance.  To the very end he put others first, worrying about the people he loved, wanting to make sure that we would all be okay, and take care of each other.  He was the purest, kindest soul I've ever known.

We lost our beloved Jim on February 3rd, 2014.  I know he is up there, at peace, watching down on us, now as our guardian angel in heaven instead of on earth.  I also know that one day we will be together again in the world to come.  But until that day, I will remember him, every day, with a smile for his goodness and tear for what is no more.

I love you Jimmy Da Guy...it ended all too soon