Wednesday, 18 January 2017

New Year, New Beginnings...Dad's Garlic Salmon



Last Friday marked 36 weeks since we lost my father...time moves on and so am I...slowly but surely I find myself looking forward, resuming normal daily routines and re injecting structure into my life...and it feels good.

I find myself journeying through the grieving process, slowly discovering that somehow you manage to go on...that, as my father used to tell me, the sun will rise again, if not tomorrow - well then, it will surely rise the next day or the day after that.

Without realizing it, I become more like my mother with each passing day...gravitating towards soup recipes and bread-making.  There is nothing more soothing than kneading a beautiful dough into a
scrumptious Challah, or piping pretty meringues.  Not surprisingly, a large part of my healing process has involved my return to the kitchen to cook and bake, and getting lost in the familiar cooking smells...

And now I can begin to look back and lovingly recall days gone by with a warm heart and a smile on my face.

It is a new year and a new beginning...and the first recipe I want to share with you in 2017 is Dad's Garlic Salmon.

I worked with my father for 27 years.  The last 9 years it was just the 2 of us in the office, and every day I would insist on eating food from home for lunch...NO MORE TAKE AWAY!!  Religiously, day in and day out, I would bring in the previous dinner's leftovers...pasta, fish, chicken.  Or I'd make us grilled cheese (hallelujah for sandwich makers) and soup.

After his bypass surgery, Dad started cooking for himself more, and every now and then he'd come up with a fantastic recipe.  And so it was that one day he walked in the office and plopped down a big hunk of salmon wrapped in aluminum foil on my desk.  Ugh...how that drove me crazy!  "Put it in fridge!" I'd scold,,.and he would. When it came time for lunch I was stunned - it was the yummiest salmon ever!!   Who knew my father was such a chef?  He beamed as I praised his cooking, with a smile that went from ear to ear, proudly sharing his heart smart recipe with me.  And he started buying larger pieces of salmon for his dinner, so there would always be enough leftovers to share with me for lunch the next day.  Oh...and he did start putting the lunch directly in the fridge 😉.


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


Dad's Garlic Salmon

Ingredients 

  • 1 lb salmon fillet 
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 tbsp crushed garlic (or more, to taste)
  • ground pepper to taste 


Method
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line baking sheet with parchment.  Rinse salmon and pat dry.  Place on parchment and brush with olive oil.  Coat salmon with black pepper and then with crushed garlic.  Bake for 21 minutes.  Serve with fresh lemon wedges.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Grief and learning to say Goodbye...again


I have been absent since January...and what a difficult 9 months it has been.  My father fell ill shortly after my last post and life quickly became overwhelming.

In February the doctors told Dad this would be his last birthday.  Then they retracted the prognosis. Little did any of us know that we were embarking on a hellish roller coaster ride, and its end would prove more painful and horrible than the ride itself.

My father approached dying as he approached life...with calm dignity.  He took this last leg of his life journey to teach us the lessons we would need to take us through the rest of our lives without him there to guide us.

He wasn't a saint - he was human.  At times he got frustrated and impatient.  So did we.  But as we had throughout our lifetime together, we always came back to one another with apologies where appropriate, unconditional love unscathed, and a stronger determination to make things better.

I was always so afraid of my parents dying.  I think we all are.  It is such a scary prospect to lose your parents, especially when you share a loving and close relationship.  I lost my mother slowly, over a period of 14 years, to Alzheimer's Disease.  The loss was more pronounced in the early years, when she was still alive in body but was being robbed of her memory and cognitive ability.  So when she died, it was painful, but also a relief - her many years of suffering were finally over.

Losing my father was different.  It was more sudden, there was little time to come to terms with his condition and our fate.  He succumbed to cardiac amyloid - a form of blood cancer that deposits plaque into the organs (in his case, his heart) causing them to stop functioning.  He died a relatively painless death, and I thank G-d for that.  But the doctors gave us a time frame of 3 to 6 months.  And though I know it was only an estimate, for some reason I held on tightly to that time line, like it was my lifeline rather than his.  And when he died 5 weeks following his prognosis, all I could think was "there's been a mistake!! We still have 5 months!!".  But there was no mistake.  His heart simply stopped on the morning of May 6th, 2016, and he was gone.  Just like that, I had lost my father...my boss...my mentor...my friend.

True to his character, he taught by example, and I learned by osmosis.  The life lessons just sunk in over time.  To his dying day, with his heart weakened, and his body fighting to quit, he persevered, refusing a wheelchair and insisting on using a walker...pressing on each day to build up his strength. Only now, some 19 weeks after his passing, can I write about it, and share this profound loss with you.   Only now, some 19 weeks later, am I finally able to pull myself from the depths of grief to which I unwillingly plummeted.  Only now am I able to begin to say goodbye and begin to pull myself out from under the fog and haze of grief that has weighed me down for 133 long days...

Throughout my lifetime, Dad would remind me that the sun will rise again.  That the darkness will fade and light will shine through.  He would encourage me, telling me that we all encounter difficult and challenging periods - angst, heartbreak, worries, health challenges...but you have to persevere, to get on with it.  He was right...and I have.  It doesn't get better...but you get better at it.

So, as I begin to move forward I can feel the healing process taking hold.  I am baking, cooking and preserving sauces and vegetables for the winter, and feeling the urge to blog new recipes, share new stories.

But before I resume my regular posts, I want to invite you to visit the blog I started as a tribute to him: "My Father's Treasure", which will document some of his talents and passions, including his photography and sketches.  My His Memory Be For a Blessing...I know it is for me 























Saturday, 9 January 2016

Bringing in 2016 with Bubbie Lou's Amazing Apple Sauce


Happy 2016! A new year is upon us, filled with the promise of fresh starts and new beginnings. 

I greeted the new year - my head swimming with thoughts of all that lay ahead in the coming days, weeks, and months.  I prepared myself to bid Sara adieu for another semester away at university...to start my final semester of paralegal courses...to watch Rebecca embark on another dance competition season.  There is so much to look forward to, and so much to do in so little time...so what else is new?!?

It's been said that God doesn't give you more than you can handle...and after the second half of 2015 I know that to be true.  I won't bore you will all the trials and tribulations faced by our family, but suffice it to say that things did not get easier following my mother's death.

But I try to remain an optimist and see the glass as being half full.  And having Sara home for the holidays was wonderful.  In September we packed her up and watched as she set off on her own life journey as a University student living hours away from home.  It was hard to say goodbye...for all of us.  But daily life and routines took over, and once again our worlds were "intense".  So this winter break was a "mechayeh" (life reviving) and I think we were all sad to see it come to an end.  


I did get a chance to try a new Bubbie Lou recipe, chosen by Sara before she left...apple sauce...and how simple it is to make!  It was a little sweet for her liking, but that's an easy fix - just reduce the sugar.  I especially love the terms Bubbie used in her recipe - "scant" (which I actually looked up to make sure I had it right!) and her little note in parentheses (Lift from top to bottom).  I halved the recipe for my first try, as reflected in the photos to follow, but it definitely wasn't enough.  I would suggest making the full recipe if you're feeding a family of four.

"scant" 3/4C of sugar

Full 1 1/2C water

4 apples (peeled and sliced)

Boil syrup for a few minutes then add sliced apples, boil
slowly for 20 minutes, lifting from the top to the bottom

The end result - yum!


An aerial view...

Maybe it's because losing my mother is still so fresh and raw, but these little notes and phrases contained in their recipes bring me so much comfort.  They make me feel like Bubbie Gertie, Bubbie Lou, Auntie Etta and Mom are reunited...and together they are watching over us...Sara, Becca and me, watching us peruse their recipes and bake with their tools. I envision them smiling and kvelling and imagine that one day I will be together with them again...to join and watch as my own daughters and granddaughters come alive and fall in love with cooking and baking...

Mom, Auntie Etta and Bubbie Lou
(this is how I imagine they are reunited,
loving and laughing, as they did in life)
So from my family to yours, here's a recipe that can be enjoyed warm or cold.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.  

Until next time, I wish you a happy and healthy 2016 filled with family, fun, friends and fantastic food.  B'Tayavon and Buon Appetito!

Bubbie Lou's Amazing Apple Sauce 

Ingredients:
  •       1½C sugar
  •       full 3C water
  •       8 apples cut in slices 

Method:
  •         Boil syrup for a few minutes
  •         Add sliced apples
  •         Boil slowly for 20 minutes, lifting apples from top to bottom
  •         Remove from heat and mash (using potato masher or a handheld immersion blender)


Thursday, 31 December 2015

Goodbye Mama...Goodbye 2015


Today marks 5 months and 2 weeks since my mother died.  It's been so much longer since I was able to see her smile, feel her touch and hear her voice...yet somehow closing off the year in which I lost her makes me very sad and leaves me feeling utterly empty.  

Life was so insanely busy and overwhelmingly hectic following her passing and only now, with a cluster of quiet days during the holiday season, have I had time to slow down...and think...and feel...and grieve.  

The tears have arrived together with a deep and painful heartache...no-one will ever love you like your mother loves you (I know, because I am a mother, and no-one can love my daughters as I do) and I have lost mine.

And though I am sad, and desperately long for the days when I took her hugs and devotion for granted, I know that she is with me...watching over me like a guardian angel from behind the pink and gold-edged clouds that greet me almost every morning as I drive to work...I hear her voice softly guiding me in the back of my mind...and I take great comfort knowing that she is forever in my heart.

So goodbye 2015, goodbye to the challenges that knocked me about but didn't knock me down...goodbye to the loss and the sadness and the heartache...

2016 is the Year of the Monkey...so was 1968 - the year I was born.  A little voice in the back of my mind told me that this is my year to celebrate successes and soar to new heights...and I'd like to think that my mother will be with me, smiling and celebrating from her new home in my heart. 

Wishing you all a very Happy 2016, filled with only good things...with health, happiness, love, success and good fortune...and most of all with family, fun, fantastic food and great friends.  B'Tayavon  & Buon Appetito!

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Baking Away the Blues...One Day at a Time



I woke up this morning to face the monumental task of studying for 3 final exams...monumental not because they're finals, but because I cannot rely on myself to hunker down and focus these days.  Distraction and restrained grief are my constant companions these days, and they seem to have a way of dominating my spirit.

Before Mama died Dad warned us that her passing would be difficult.  We countered that living with anticipatory grief, watching her die before us and losing her over and over again had prepared us.  He warned, again, that it hadn't.  I let it be, assuming that I had grieved the worst of it already.  Now I know that I did not really understand what grieving a death of parent would be like, at least not for me.  

The day Mama died I cried, and cried.  I was a soggy mess of tears and overwhelming grief.  She was gone.  It was real.  But the next morning when I awoke I told myself "I am strong, I will not cry".  I wanted to be an example for my kids, a source of strength for my grieving family, and a matriarch my mother would have been proud of.  I cleaned the house in preparation for house guests and a Shiva, showered and did my makeup (as Mom would have told me to) and went about picking up Uncle Van and Noel from the airport.  I did not cry that day.  I came close, but I did not.  In fact, I did not cry the day of Mama's funeral either.  I had a brief moment of panic when we arrived at the Feld (cemetery), but I did not cry.  I kept hearing Mama's voice telling me "Nomi, remember that women are the strong ones, and we need to stay strong for the boys.".  And I did not cry. 

I found prayers during the Shiva very difficult.  That made me cry.  I could not be in a group of people, saying Kaddish (Sanctification - meant to help the soul of the deceased in its journey upward).  I would suddenly feel this shaking from inside, and the tears would push their way to the surface.  Not a pleasant experience.  I prefer to say Kaddish alone.  It is between me and G-d and Mama.  That way there are no tears, just a direct connection with me and my mother.  It is my way of honouring her memory.  

And so, four weeks have passed since my mother died...tomorrow marks 30 days, and the end of the Shloshim (30 day full mourning period)...and I am utterly shocked by my involuntary reaction to the loss.  Don't get me wrong...I love my mother and miss her terribly...but this is nothing new.  I have dealt with the loss of my mother for 9 years...14 actually.  I reconciled myself to the fact that my advisor, confidante, best friend, was gone...I had come to accept that years ago.  What I wasn't prepared for was the finality of it all.  How painful it would be to know that she was gone from this earth.  That it would actually be more painful to visit a grave than to visit a virtually comatose shell that was once a vibrant, exuberant, beautiful, graceful, lovely and loving person.  

And now I am overwhelmed with this...grief...grief that makes me so tired...so very tired.  I thought grief presented as tears and expressive sadness, yet I am just so tired.  And still, life goes on, the world doesn't stop, and I have to write exams...which means I have to study...which means I have to read, and absorb what I am reading.  No small task when all you want to do is...bake?!?!

Yes...you read that right.  All I want to do is bake, and cook, and bake again.  All of Mama's recipes. I want to read her recipe notes written on the back of envelopes and notes left for Davie or me or the cleaning lady!  I want to see her handwriting and feel connected to her.  




I woke up this morning and came right down to the cookbook shelf, pulled out the Golden Recipes collection of recipes and sifted through all of them.  I found every recipe that I have not yet tried (OK - except the herring, boiled fish and jellied veal), and put them aside.  As soon as I finish my final "final" I plan on baking away my blues, one recipe at a time, one day at a time.  And I will share them with you...again, like the old days.    

I guess we all heal in our own way, and the kitchen is my haven, my mechaya ("lit. = which makes live: relief; joy (said of a person, thing or situation").  Mom always used the word mechaya..."it's a mechaya Nomi"...meaning it's a relief.  She would say it in the context of walking into an air conditioned room after being out in the punishing heat, for example.  That's the context in which I always used the word.  But for some reason, now, in writing this post, the word popped into my mind.  My kitchen is a mechaya.  Funny, how we can read into a meaning depending on our circumstance - the literal meaning of the word is "which makes live", and I guess the kitchen and my mother's recipes will make the part of me that feels like it's died live again...


Thursday, 13 August 2015

The Water Tower - A Mom Memory Moment

Mom's Water Tower 
(Ironically located at the top of my street)

Mom was already presenting signs of what was then termed "Mild Cognitive Memory Impairment"  when she and Dad moved into their condo.  She would fixate on what I thought were the strangest things, and tell me about them over and over again.

One of these things was "my water tower".  She would call me often to tell me that she was looking out the window of their condo and could see my water tower.

I would tell her the tower wasn't really that close to where we lived, but OK, we'll call it my water tower, after all, it seemed to bring her comfort and make her feel that much closer to me.

Fast forward 10 years.  We now live in Aurora, and the water tower is 1 block away from our house, we can see if from our front windows, and various areas in and around our home.  I guess that's what they mean by bashert (meant to be).

And now my mother has died.  Since losing her,  I spend a lot of my quiet time in our backyard.  The other day I looked up and realized that I was staring directly at the water tower.  Only now it is Mom's water tower, and it brings me comfort when I look at it...somehow it makes me feel that much closer to her...funny how life has a way of bringing things full circle...


Saturday, 8 August 2015

Twenty Years With My Bashert - Happy Anniversary Carlo


Our family made it through the first milestone without Mama.  Carlo and I marked our twentieth wedding anniversary yesterday.  Twenty years...where did the time go?  It also marked 3 weeks to the day since Mama died.


Carlo and the girls tried so hard to make things nice for me, but in a subdued way, knowing that I am in the Shloshim (30 day mourning period) and don't feel comfortable participating in any celebratory functions.  I am not the most observant Jew but certain things just feel wrong, and to not observe the 30 days is one of them.  



So we kept it quiet and simple for our anniversary.  And it was lovely.  For the first time in the 5 weeks since we were told Mama was terminal, and the 3 weeks since we lost her, I didn't feel lost in sadness.





Carlo made a reservation at our favourite restaurant from yesteryear, Vincent's Spot.










We always loved it there.  Nothing has changed since it opened it's doors in 1977 and I'm so glad it hasn't.









The ambiance is a throwback to the 1950s, like walking into a scene from the Godfather, with music to match.






I was really pleased to discover they haven't changed their menu either.  The food was always so delicious.  You know how you can remember something being one way, only to revisit it years later and it doesn't measure up?  Happily, this was not the case.  Every dish was delish, and even better - the girls agreed.


Carlo used to take me to Vincent's when we were dating.  It was our spot.  The owner and his wife were so friendly and warm.  I always got along with Helena.  She would come and visit with us at our table during the meal...so homey.  And when Carlo proposed, it was Vincent's Spot that he took me to for dinner first.  So it seemed a natural choice to return there 20 years later.  What I didn't expect was for Helena to remember us. But she did.  She came to our table, took a long look at Carlo, then at me, and said "it's been a long time"...and that was it...we caught up on her growing family and ours, and she "welcome(d us) home".  It was the nicest evening, and for an evening, the suffocating sorrow of the past month eased and I enjoyed myself.


Vincent's Spot is located in our old neighbourhood, where Carlo grew up, bought his first house, where we lived when we first got married, where Sara was born.  It's a 45 minute drive from where we live now.  We arrived extra early (allowing for rush hour and ParaPan Am games traffic) and were able to take the girls on a drive down memory lane - literally!  We saw the house Carlo grew up in, the baseball diamonds he played at, and the schools he attended.  We saw our little wartime house and the maple tree Carlo planted in the backyard when Sara was born...it's so big now!  We pointed out the Tim Horton's we drove through on our way to the hospital when I was in labour with Sara.  We drove by the "Kissing Bridge" on Woodrow Drive and all our old haunts from when we were dating, and I was just a little older than Sara is now.  How time flies...


Anniversary #19

This anniversary is significant for me in many ways.  It is a milestone, it is the first without my mother, and it is the last before Sara moves away to university.  But beyond the fluff and romance, there is the strong bond and deep love that sustains us, and has kept me going through this incredibly difficult period in my life.  Carlo has bolstered me in my darkest hours, letting me mourn without any judgment or interference, always there when I need him...my mother loved him and knew he would take care of me, and he does.  The measure of a relationship or friendship is not how one treats you in the good times - that is easy...it's what they do in the worst moments, and Carlo has shown me that I really do have a knight in shining armour, mine just wears chinos instead.  I love you Carlo.  Happy Anniversary.

Anniversary #20