Saturday, 6 September 2014

Back to School with Simple Meals...Pasta Al Forno

Well, we made it through the first week of school...almost!

The girls started classes this past week.  The drama of settling into a new routine, sorting out confused timetables, and getting everywhere on time is just about behind us.  

But this year, we've added a new twist to back to school...Mom's going back too!  I have a renewed appreciation for our kids' butterflies and apprehension, as I face my own return to the classroom after a 20-year hiatus.  As I stood in line for my student card, surrounded by young people just a year or two older than Sara, I marvelled at how much things have changed, yet stayed the same since Diane and I attended York in the late 1980's.  The line ups at the bookstore, and student photo ID centre are still hours long, but now you can do so much on line - something that was not possible when we went to school.  

But I did my books, got my student ID card, found my classrooms and plotted my route from parking lot to classroom.  And I talked myself through the jitters the same way I would try to calm our kids.  My office is ready for learning - the clutter is cleaned out, all our schedules are logged, notebooks are bought, pens and highlighters on hand.  

I guess all that is left is for classes to start on Monday night...

As far as food, meals and the running of our home - that is pretty much under control too.  My wonderful family are all onside as we face this lifestyle change together.  Everyone will do a little more to help around the house, Carl will cook more, and our meals will be a lot simpler during my school semesters.  

Simpler does not mean flavourless though.  The other night, Becca said she was craving something cheesy and gooey and saucy.  And suddenly it popped in my head - pasta al forno!  This is a pasta which is oven-baked, liked lasagna.  But I don't think fresh pasta is in the cards for us for the next 3 I boiled some small pasta shells, browned some ground beef, made a tomato sauce and shredded some mozzarella.  (If you observe Kashruth, substitute the ground beef for veggie ground or omit the beef altogether).  I drained the pasta and combined it with the sauce and ground beef in a Pyrex, then topped it with mozzarella.  I covered it with foil, placed it on a cookie sheet and baked it in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.

It was a huge hit - served with a simple side salad and some garlic bread.  Sara had 3 helpings!  Sara, who never has more than a modest single serving said it was scrumptious!  As I sat at the table watching my family devour this incredibly simple meal, I felt the tension flow out of my body, and I realized that it will be OK.  There are plenty of quick and easy dishes like this pasta al forno that I can pull out of a hat and prepare in 30 minutes or less, like I used to when the girls were little and time was limited.   

So, from my family to yours, I hope you enjoy this pasta al forno as much as we did.  Until next time, I wish you all a wonderful back to school season, and a fantastic weekend, filled with family. fun, friends and fantastic food.  B'Tayavon & Buon Appetito!

Naomi's Pasta Al Forno

  • 1 package lean ground beef or veggie ground
  • 1 box pasta 
  • 1 jar tomato sauce (for my recipe, see sauce)
  • 2C shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Boil pasta.  Brown ground beef or veggie ground and drain.  Make sauce.  Combine pasta, sauce and beef in Pyrex.  Place on baking sheet (in case it bubbles over) and cover with foil.  Bake for half an hour, then serve.  No need to uncover while baking, unless you like your cheese to brown.  

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Perogies and cooking with love...across the generations and throughout the family

Grandma Rose's Family Recipe

As you know, I was in Victoria last January visiting Jimmy and Barb and their family.  I wrote a few posts during that time, about the my experience there, visiting with my family and cooking up new delicious recipes. Here is another post from that visit...

It is so beautiful here.  Every day they find something beautiful for me to discover, this being my first ever trip to the west coast, even if I often view it  just from the car.

The reason for our visit is bittersweet - my Uncle Jim is not well, that is the bitter - we are together, that is the sweet.  And he smiles...a lot.  He seems to be really happy to see how gelled his family tight we've pulled back together in such a short time.  But I'm really not surprised...
We have history...I tried to express it to Barb the other day (and failed miserably, I'm afraid) let me try again, here, where I have a backspace and delete button.
As we were leaving after a long day of visiting, cooking, running errands and reminiscing, Rose gave me a big hug, put her arm around me, looked at me and said "you look just like your mother when you smile like that". I thought my heart would burst right on the spot.  That moment embodied everything I've missed so desperately...the history...the back stories...the memories.  Since Alzheimer's took a firm hold of my mother, I have no matriarch to give me a hug and tell me they remember me when I was a girl, that they remember my mother, my grandmother, to share my memories...until now.  My aunt Barb and "Grandma" Rose soothed that throbbing dull ache of loss for me.

Jimmy loves pasta...hmmmm you think we might be related?!?  So I made my pasta a la Sara the other night with Omega 3 enriched pasta to sneak some extra nutrients into his diet.  As I was making this super easy meal, Rose was perusing the Matriarchs' "Golden Recipes" cookbook, and pointing out the similarities between the recipes that we make and the recipes that her family makes (all stemming back to the same Winnipeg roots).  
I became intrigued every time Rose would come across a recipe and say "Your Bubbie Lou used to make this for us!  It is so delicious!".  I was dumbfounded.  In one case it was a recipe on a small scrap of paper, for lavash.  I have passed this recipe over many times...nothing in it grabbed my attention.  But now, you can be sure I will be making it when I get back home.  It's like I've been given a window into the world of yesteryear, and awakened from a deep sleep. 
So, Rose, Stan and I corralled Barb into planning the meals for the duration of our visit...and now that I have foodie partners in crime, this is becoming a really fun endeavour!  We are planning on making a special dinner for our last night of the trip: Chicken Kiev, Mushroom Brown Rice and Asparagus a la Nora...and let's not forget dessert: hamentashen and mun bagel 
BUT...that is not the only exciting meal in the works...Jimmy and I both love perogies/verenikes.  I have already told you how we make ravioli, but I've never made a proper perogie...until now.  Stan and Rose are adopting me as their culinary kid and teaching me to make them too!  Tuesday night's dinner is cheddar, potato and onion perogies with sour cream, a Caesar salad and some crusty bread.  No-one will say we aren't eating well this trip!
Grandma Rose cutting circles
The filling balls

Perogies - the finished product

Grandpa Stan overseeing the
boiling of the perogies
Fast forward to July...the here and now.  Over five months have passed since we left Victoria, and lost Jimmy.  But the memories of that wonderful trip remain forever ingrained in my mind and heart.  The dinner preparation that Tuesday night was so much fun.  Rose was very patient, as we rolled out the perogie dough (she ended up breaking Barb's rolling pin handles right off the pin so we'd have our own makeshift French rolling pin!), cut the circles and she skillfully (I, gingerly) filled each one.  I soon got the hang of the hand motions necessary to effectively fill and seal each perogie, and they passed Stan inspection too!  (He was in charge of boiling them).  We gobbled them up that evening, as our family gathered round the table, enjoying every moment we were together.

And they were so yummy that I set out to make them right away once I was back home.  Were they ever a hit with my family!  The first time I made them I fried them up with chopped onions after boiling and draining them. The next time I made them I laid them on a parchment-lined baking sheet, spritzed them with a little canola oil spray and baked them in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes, turning them once and spritzing again.  They were just as delicious but not fried.  Oh...but I still served them topped with fried onions, of course!

So, from my extended and immediate family to yours, I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we all do.  Wishing you all a wonderful weekend filled with family, friends, fun and fantastic food.  B'Tayavon and Buon Appetito!

Grandma Rose's Perfect Perogies

Dough Ingredients:

  • 1 C hot water
  • ½ C cold milk
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 4½ C flour

Dough Method:
Combine dry ingredients, then blend in water, oil and milk.  Knead well, and refrigerate for ½ hour.  

Filling Ingredients:
  • 6 medium potatoes, boiled & mashed
  • ½ C grated cheddar cheese (or to taste)  OR cheese whiz to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste

Filling Method:
Boil and mash potatoes. While hot, mix in cheddar cheese and salt and pepper.  Allow to cool so you can comfortably touch the mixture and then roll into balls and place on cookie sheet.

Making the perogies:
Roll the dough on a floured, flat surface.  It will be moist but not sticky.  Roll  it to between ½" and ¼" thickness. Use round glass to cut circles.  Place circle of dough in palm of your hand, put ball of filling in middle of circle. Then roll dough into semi-circle, carefully and tightly sealing all edges.  Place on baking sheet until ready to boil.  

Preparing the perogies:
Boil: Once you have made a batch of perogies, bring a large stock pot of water to a boil and gently place the perogies in the water.  They will float to the top.  Let them boil for 5 minutes, then remove from water with slotted spoon.
Fry: You can place them in frying pan with a little oil to crisp them; or 
Bake: Preheat over to 400 degrees and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet,  spray with canola oil spray and bake for 20 minutes, turning and respraying once.

We like to eat our perogies with fried onions and sour cream on top!   

Saturday, 12 July 2014

New Beginnings and New (Old) Approaches...

Image courtesy of

I haven't been writing much over the past 8 has been so busy, between the move to a new house, my uncle Jim's sudden illness and passing, the kids' busy lives and a new baby joining our family, I have been consistently pulled in too many directions to be able to take the time to bake and try new recipes let alone write about them.

Now things are getting even busier, as I am planning on going back to school part-time in the fall, and upgrading my legal education - finally!  So, how does this fit in with blogging about Mom, food and trying new recipes?  Well, strangely enough, it does.

Last time I was in post-secondary school I had the luxury of living at home, under the protective and indulgent wing of my mother.  She ensured that my living conditions were ideal - all I had to do was go to work during the day and attend University in the evenings.  I studied on weekends. Everything else was taken care of for me.  How lucky I was!  Now, as Sara contemplates her own post-secondary choices, I keep offering her the same - work part-time and attend school full-time, and let me help you by taking care of the rest.  She is not convinced - yet.   But she still has a year to go, and in that year, she will have the added advantage of watching me go back to school, and juggle it all.  This should be interesting...for all of us...

I am already thinking ahead to meal planning - and preparing double recipes of dinners ahead of time that can be frozen and pulled out on a rotating schedule.  With everyone's busy lives I know that it will be necessary to have a meal plan - so we all know what to expect.  It's just simpler that way.  Haven't you ever found yourself racking your brain on the way home from work, trying to figure out what to make for dinner? A meal chart alleviates that stress from the mix.  So I am pulling out some of my tried and true resources from days gone by - including the list of meals that we all liked so I can start  to prepare and freeze.

In my old life, during the month off between semesters I would go on vacation with Diane and Mary, and read books for pleasure - so relaxing and decadent was I.  Now I am thinking that this will be the time that use to prepare & freeze meals and cookies and baking for the semester ahead.

Don't get me wrong.  Carlo and the kids are my biggest supporters.  They are really excited that I am taking the plunge, and have all pledged to help me with the "Mommy tasks" that I have always held a tight reign over - cooking, cleaning, etc..  And I know that much like my mother prepared me for the world, our beautiful daughters are already prepared to fly solo if they had to, but they really don't have to yet.

Actually, I see this as yet another opportunity for me to teach them some essential life lessons: that's it's never too late to follow your dreams (but more importantly, DO NOT cut them short when you're young); that things of value take hard work, effort and commitment; that if you want something done, give it to a busy person.   I am hoping to be a positive example for our daughters, am determined to succeed, and in doing so, I trust I will inspire them to reach for their own stars.

So, the sharing of new recipes may be fewer and farther between, but I think it's worth it...and who knows - we might even get Carlo to start writing about his recipes!

In the meantime, in the next couple of days I plan on posting a fantastic family recipe for perogies - it's perfect for making ahead and freezing (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) - that Grandma Rose (Uncle Jim's mother-in-law) shared with me when I was in Victoria this past January.  So stay tuned!

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

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Living Through The Long, Lonely Goodbye

When Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease on September 11th, 2006, a friend sympathetically offered support for the rough times ahead.  I remember thinking to myself  "we'll be fine, we'll deal with it".  Looking back I am amazed by my naivete and innocence...

I had no idea that there would be no relief from the annoying repetitive behaviours...that they would increase in frequency and intensity.  I had no idea that my mother would disappear as she was consumed by a disease that stole her memory, her ability to function in every aspect of daily life.  I had no idea how this disease would rob my mother of her life, and us of ours in trying to help her cope with a new loss every day. 

As we progressed further into this journey, another friend told me to try to enjoy each stage, and appreciate it.  (In hindsight I understand that she meant that each stage to follow would be worse).  I thought she was nuts - enjoy this?!  Seriously?!?   At the time I could not enjoy anything.  I was overwhelmed with pressures and responsibility.  I was a mother of young children and a daughter of an ailing mother.  I was pulled in so many directions and drowning in a melting pot of mixed emotions - frustration, anger, fear, confusion, grief.  I just wanted to be "normal", like other thirty-something mothers, taking my kids to school and play dates...not trying to manoeuvre through medical and social service minefields.   I wanted to go back to the days when my mother mothered me, guiding me through the labyrinth of life.  I needed my mom.

But, more importantly, my mom needed me.  She started calling me her mom.  Not as a joke, but in all seriousness.  I think that's how she saw me - as the woman who took care of her.  I don't like to think back to those days.  The kids remember me losing my patience...a lot.  I remember feeling like the world was crashing in on me...a lot. 

And it's a memory.  Almost eight years have passed since we received my mother's formal diagnosis...five years years since she went into long-term care.  She is at the end stages of Alzheimer's Disease.  She barely speaks, moves or opens her eyes.  She is trapped in a failing body that imprisons her.  I can only pray that she is at peace in there, and does not understand where she has ended up.  

I now understand her better...why she was so afraid of getting this disease, and how brave she was to live with it, all the while enduring the daily torment of knowing what was coming.  My poor mother.  My brave mother.  My beloved mother.
I think of her constantly...and smile at how life has changed, and how much she would have loved this phase.  Sara is almost beautiful, graceful and many ways a younger version of my mom.  Becca is blooming...with her many interests - especially her love of piano and ballet - my mother would have kvelled (burst with pride).  Abby is delightful and sweet, spirited and with a quick wit - Mom would have giggled at all her 5-year-old antics.  And now we are awaiting the arrival of "Baby Boy" (my soon-to-be nephew) later this month.  She would have been on shpilkis (bouncing off the walls) with anticipation of our newest family member...excitedly planning for his arrival.

This time around I am the backup plan.  Abby is so excited for the baby's arrival - because she gets to sleep over with her cousins!  She's priceless! That's what I am talking about, Mom would have had a field day with that one!

When Becca was born we dropped a sleeping Sara to my parents' place on the way to the hospital.  She awakened the next morning and asked my parents "how I got here?".  It became one of the catchphrases that my parents gleefully repeated with a smile and a chuckle for years to come (Dad and I still laugh about it to this day).  Mom made sure that Sara's first meeting with her little sister was an exciting event...from the ride down to the hospital, to coming inside the room, to the actual introduction: "Hi, I'm your big sister Sara, S - A - R - A".

Now the torch has been passed to me.  I will take my niece Abby to meet her little brother.  We will have a sleepover, with lots of fun planned, and then when it's time to go to the hospital we'll get him a nice stuffed animal and a balloon and head downtown.  So, as I plan for this exciting milestone, I think of Mom.  A lot.  I wish I could share these plans with her, and probably will...hoping that she hears me.  These are the moments that I desperately miss her, and feel the impact of the long, lonely goodbye.

But the torch has passed, and like the millions of other people who live with this kind of "limbo loss", when your loved one is effectively gone, but their body perseveres, our family will find a way to emphasize the sweetness in yet another bittersweet Simcha .  I will bake for Baby Boy's Bris, and we will celebrate his life with joy and gratitude and elation...and that is exactly how Mama would have wanted it.  

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Naomi's Super Quick Stir Fry

Funny how I never think to post my own recipes...those fast and easy dishes that I tend to reach for on weeknights when I want a healthy from-scratch meal that doesn't require a huge outlay of time or effort. 
But lately I am getting feedback from people asking for the recipes of my "What's Cooking Good Looking" posts on the MMT Facebook page - the latest being for my veggie stir fry.  

This is the easiest and tastiest shitarein recipe ever...and the best part?  You use whatever ingredients you have on hand!

In my case, I prefer a vegetarian stir fry, but you could easily add some strips of beef, chicken, tofu or seafood - like I said, it's totally up to you.  We round out this meal with some vegetarian spring rolls, fluffy white rice and crusty bread for a light and delicious dinner that satisfies your taste buds and your hunger pangs.

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

Naomi's Super Quick Stir Fry

½ package of instant noodles (cooked and drained)
2 tbsp canola oil
1 tbsp crushed garlic
2 tbsp soya sauce (or more to taste)
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 large zucchini, peeled and chopped into smaller pieces (same size as carrot rounds)
1 red onion, chopped
10 - 15 mini carrots, cut into smaller rounds
6 celery stalks, chopped into smaller pieces (same size as carrot rounds)
1 package fresh mushrooms, sliced OR 1 tin sliced mushrooms, drained
1 package snap peas, rinsed
1 red, orange or yellow pepper, diced

In large frying pan on medium heat, saute onions, and garlic in canola oil until translucent.  Add mushrooms, carrots, celery, and saute for about 5 minutes.  Then add peppers, zucchini, snap peas and pre-cooked instant noodles. Toss with lemon juice and soya sauce and saute for a further 5 minutes or until any residual liquid is gone.  Serve hot and enjoy! 

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Tantalizing Tartar Sauce, courtesy of Grandpa Stan

Grandpa Stan hard at work, making  dinner
for 9, and teaching me at the same time 
Now that I have shared my wonderful fish frying experience with you, I feel it is only fair to share the condiments that accompany the fish.

I have only ever known 2 kinds of tartar sauce - the one you buy in a jar from the store, or the one I have always mixed together by combining mayonnaise and sweet relish.

Imagine my surprise when Grandpa Stan started pulling out a bevy of ingredients from the fridge!

One of the most interesting things I've noticed about cooking with my parents' generation (Stan is 4 months younger than my father) is that the foodies all tend to cook using the same methodology, even though they have different names for it.  In Yiddish, we call it the shitarein method - the Yiddish word meaning to "throw in" a little of this, and throw in a little of that...there is no strict levelling off ingredients in the measuring spoons...and somehow every recipe turns out delicious.

So, from my extended family to yours, I hope you enjoy this tartar sauce with the best ever battered fish as much as we do.

Grandpa Stan's Handwritten Recipe
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 Tantalizing Tartar Sauce


  • ½C salad dressing (miracle whip or mayonnaise work just fine)
  • 2 tbsp sweet relish
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • ½ tsp Worcestershire sauce

Combine all ingredients, mix  well and let stand for 15 minutes (in refrigerator) before serving.

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 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.

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 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 


  • 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

  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 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 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 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 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 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 ended all too soon