March 31, 2010

Lamingtons and Lemon Pudding

If some genie offered me a choice between having a maid or a cook, I would most definitely choose the maid. I always prefer cooking to cleaning and if you were to visit my house on most days you would notice that it smells good with the aroma of cooking and baking but looks, well, kind of messy. As the beautiful season of Easter approaches my practical thoughts turn to special holiday foods once more. What will I place on the decorated dinner table this year?

We plan to have Easter Sunday dinner with our friends with whom we celebrate virtually every major holiday. Both we and our friends live far from our own families, theirs in England and the U.S. and ours across several mountain passes, and so we share the cooking and take turns hosting. (We are most often the hosts at our larger home, which forces us to clean up, so it's not a bad thing). We'll most likely have a baked and glazed ham, a delicious potato dish, salads and some plain cooked vegetables for the picky eaters among us, wine for the grown-ups and ginger ale for the kids, and of course, dessert.

When my children were small we baked and decorated sugar cookies in a variety of Easter shapes like bunnies, baskets, etc. but as the years went on and I became more confident in the kitchen I began studying new recipes, some from other cultures. The first year we moved to the Fraser Valley I reread several back issues of Martha Stewart Living magazine, which I had subscribed to for one year before giving up in despair of ever keeping up to her extreme standards (I was younger then and thought I had to 'keep up' without the aid of a staff of five. God knows why). I still have those twelve issues and all the December ones since, because I get particularly crafty at Christmas time, and there are enough recipes, gardening and craft ideas to keep me going for ever. It is a beautiful magazine, even just to look through.

I had heard of a legendary, delicious Australian petit-four called Lamingtons (named after Lady Lamington, the wife of a Victorian governor in Queensland, Australia) but had never made them or tasted them, and lo and behold, Martha Stewart Living had a recipe in their April 2002 issue. I was determined to make them for Easter. They were a two day operation. One day I made the sponge cakes, then cut and sandwiched them with strawberry jam into twenty-four two-inch squares - they had to chill overnight - and the next day I dipped them in chocolate icing which had to remain heated over a bowl of simmering water, before I dipped them in coconut. I remember cursing like the Tasmanian Devil while I dipped and dunked those tricky, elusive little squares of cake and telling my kids, in no uncertain terms, to STAY OUT OF THE KITCHEN!!! I've never made them since. Is this the year I will attempt them again? They were delicious and I am more experienced at tricky baking techniques, but I'm just not sure...

This past weekend we were invited to some friends' for an Earth Hour candlelight dessert party. The weekend before I had tried a new recipe for lemon buttermilk pudding cake found in an old issue of Canadian Living Magazine (I subscribed to CLM for many years and credit it, and my sister Clare for teaching me the basics of cooking) and liked both the process and the result: quick, simple and delicious. I doubled the recipe and all ten guests and two hosts of the party gobbled it up.
The older I get the more I realize that complicated is not necessarily better. If one has the time and energy for complicated, fine, but it's not worth losing one's temper for. As we descend into Easter weekend and I have our traditional braided sweet bread to bake, the front garden to weed, a husband who must work all the holiday at the hotel, and the house to ready for our Easter dinner guests, I have a sneaking suspicion that I'll be making the lemon pudding, which I have renamed Lemon Meringue Pie Pudding due to its wonderfully fluffy and light meringue-like top, for Easter dessert this year. Maybe next year it will be a year for Lamingtons.

Both recipes are delicious and perfect for the Easter table. The recipe for lamingtons is too long to type here, but it is available on - I checked. I will provide the recipe for Lemon Pudding and encourage you, if you like lemon desserts at all, to try it. Wishing you a joyous Easter and a very happy spring!
Lemon Buttermilk Pudding Cake
As it bakes, this homey classic separates into a layer of light cake on top of a delicious lemon curd.
3 eggs, separated
3/4 cup granulated sugar 175 ml
1/3 cup all-purpose flour 75 ml
pinch salt
1 1/4 cups buttermilk 300 ml
2 Tbsp salted butter, melted 25 ml
1 Tbsp grated lemon rind 15 ml
1/3 cup lemon juice 75 ml
In large bowl, whisk egg yolks with sugar until pale; beat in flour and salt.
Whisk in buttermilk, butter, lemon rind and lemon juice.
In separate bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form; fold one-third into milk mixture. Fold in remaining whites.
Pour into greased 8-inch (2L) square glass baking dish. Place dish in roasting pan (or any pan larger than the dish you are baking the pudding in); pour in enough hot water to come halfway up sides of dish.
Bake in 350 degrees Farenheit (180 degrees Celcius) oven until top is golden, about 35 minutes. Remove from water; let cool on rack for 30 minutes. It is very good chilled as well.
Makes 6 servings.

March 26, 2010

The Turning Point

Often in the summers of my childhood Mom would ask me to go out to the garden and cut her a handful of parsley or chives. I particularly enjoyed this act of harvesting, which felt like an honour somehow. When I returned from the garden, fragrant bouquet in hand I would present it to Mom.

"How's this?" I would ask.

"That is just perfect," she would say with satisfying approval glowing through her chocolate brown eyes. My heart would lift when I heard these words, seemingly so simple but striking a chord so sweet and true in my young heart, just like when my dad called me 'Princess'. No words could be more welcome to me than those few syllables of love, ultimate acceptance and encouragement. No matter how tricky the world became to navigate I could always count on those occasions when all felt right in my world. I knew deep down that 'perfect' and 'princess' were exaggerations. Neither word described me nor my actions in actual fact, but both terms embodied the hopes of every child - to be held precious and full of promise in their parents' eyes.

Twenty years later I was living with my husband and young family at a remote outdoor education lodge on Vancouver Island, and finding the experience emotionally taxing. My husband was the lodge's program director, a position that required his full time presence. Unfortunately, family accommodation was scarce and we were living in a previously condemned cabin that we had fixed up to the best of our ability, yet it became infested with three kinds of ants every spring and was overrun with mice year round. We vacuumed the ants and spray-foamed the hole where they were getting in. We caught at least one mouse every night that first year, and once, we caught two at once by their noses in the same trap. The mice ran inside the wall behind our bed all night and, though once I would have cried at the flap-flapping sound of a suffering mouse caught in a trap, I now rejoiced - YES! Nevertheless we were cozy in our wood heated cabin with the marine-blue painted floors and the loft where we all slept together. The forested lakefront location was stunningly, achingly beautiful, and I was writing a lot - letters, a rewrite of my novel, limping attempts at poetry - but the population of the lodge was small, about twenty in the winter and sixty in the summer, and my children's relationships with the few resident children were at times fraught with difficulties. My nerves were often strung to their limit during our first years there and every situation was easily blown out of proportion.

One day during a run through the kitchen into the toy area my young boys asked me what had been the best time in my life. I responded without hesitation that it was when I had married their dad and had them and their sister (the other sister came along a few years later). They both stopped in their tracks.

"Really?" said my six year old with a glowing face full of surprise and delight. He had recently seen me in some of my darkest moments and had often given me that deep questioning look that shows parents how emotionally tuned-in children can be. "Hey brother, Mom says the best time in her life was when she had us!"

"Really?" chimed in my five year old, jumping up and down with a toy in his chubby little fist.

It was as if I had turned on a light switch in their little bodies with my words. I admit I was just as surprised by their reaction. Hadn't they known this all along? Perhaps I had been lacking in the praise department or spent far too much time growling at them. Either way, I realized rather sharply that whatever muck I was wading through personally, or no matter what difficult phase each child was struggling with, I needed to let my children know very often how much they meant to me, how precious they were in my eyes. I needed to find time to focus in on each child and give them a gem of hope to hold on to when the world and/or their parents seemed to be against them.

From that day on, our household was more peaceful. I gradually, stubbornly learned the importance of digging deeper into myself in order to give my children more and the kids soaked it up like the little sponges they were, miraculously forgiving me for all my past wrongs, and aiming increasingly to make me proud of them. I am not saying every day was without challenges. It was just that we were getting better at loving each other within our family and that freed up more love to give outside of it, which I began to realize was one of the purposes of a family.

I have found that parents create a sort of climate within the family they can live in and though this may be different for every family, peace ends up being the ultimate goal when all is said and done. Living at the lodge gave us the opportunity to grow as a family and I will admit the growing had to start with me. I had to rid myself of all preconceived notions about other people as I learned that most social trails are the result of misunderstandings and presumption. I poured myself into home schooling my children, which I did for four years and which turned out to be an excellent experience for all of us. It gave me an unavoidable focus and a way to keep my children's interactions with the community scheduled and, therefore, manageable. I also got to know my children in ways I would not have otherwise. Before then, I think I was a subsistence parent - I did what was required, but I don't believe I was as deeply invested as I could have been, or as my husband steadily had been from day one. Waking up to that cold fact on that fateful day, and, in readily answering my son's question, realizing that deep down I did at least want to put my family first, was a very hopeful first step in my new life as a mom. Everything in my life now seemed washed in a mellow light. I knew difficulties would come again, but I might be ready for them next time if I remained open, attentive, and purposeful.

Lately, I feel as if I am wavering above and below the line of calm. I am at times overwhelmed in my new role as a parent of teenagers. The lodge seems long ago and far away. It has been a long time since my husband and I were the sole educators of our children in a remote location. We share that role with their schools, television, their friends, and the internet. I know this is how it is supposed to be. One day not far from now I will need to start letting them go, refocusing my desire to educate them into letting them make what their dad and I have taught them their own, so it will truly be theirs to take when they go out into the world.
The view is from the shore of the lodge where we used to live.

March 23, 2010

It's a Blog-eat-Blog World but I've got a Friend

My lovely friend Kate, over at has seen fit to provide me with the right to call my blog 'award-winning'. I've always thought this a cool award because I do aim, above all, to be an honest writer, so thank you Kate! The deal is, in order to claim the award, I have to list ten things my friends may not already know about me. I have thought long and hard about these ten things in order to make this list at least somewhat interesting. So, here goes: Rebecca S.' top ten interesting personal facts.

1. I once swore at a campaigning politician visiting my high school, in front of the whole school. The fact that he went on to do great things for his riding is beside the point.

2. I've been in four car accidents (3 of them in winter, 2 while I was driving), and visit the chiropractor and a massage therapist once a month to maintain mobility in my neck and upper back after injuring them a few times. When I think about it, I feel lucky to be alive.

3. When I was a baby I pulled a lamp into my crib, which smouldered and burnt me, filling my lungs with smoke. I spent several weeks in the hospital with pneumonia and drove the nurses crazy by repeatedly poking holes in my oxygen tents.

4. I want a dog, but I don't want to pick up the poop.

5. Someday I'm going to go to the U.K. and tour all those beautiful old castles and manor houses, and their gardens that I've held a fascination for all my life. I'm also going to have some fish and chips and some pints with Julie Walters and Helen Mirren while I'm there.

6. Having a family is the best thing that has ever happened to me. When I gave birth to my first son I knew that I had finally really done something good, and it was very empowering. Three more children cemented the fact.

7. When I was eleven or so my mom hauled my skinny butt off to the doctor because she thought there was something seriously wrong with me. It turned out I just really hated school.

8. Music and art feed my soul. I get a wrenching in my gut when I see, read, or hear something beautiful. I'm an emotional being but can pull myself together when necessary - or my children would be embarrassed to be seen with me at any function.

9. I've never lived alone, but that doesn't mean I've never been lonely.

10. I believe wholeheartedly in the power of prayer and the necessity of patience, but I don't talk about it much. Maybe this will change as I get older and care less what people think, or rather, care differently.

Thank you for reading my list. I'm not sure if I am supposed to pass the Honest Scrap award on to anyone. Kate?

March 19, 2010

Happy St. Joseph's Day!

Yes, yes, I know, we've just finished with the green beer and the shamrocks, the corned beef and cabbage, the dancing of jigs and the transatlantic greetings, but today is an important holiday, too. At least it could be if we all made more of a fuss about it.

Today is the feast of St. Joseph, husband of Mary, mother of Jesus and, according to my research, patron saint of all of the following: the Universal Church, Canada, travellers, fathers, workers, families, schools and a happy death. That just about covers it - at least in my life.

To be sure, St. Patrick's day is important for all of us who claim even an ounce of Irish blood in our veins. According to my family tree, my great-grandmother on my mother's father's side was Irish. In my younger days that was enough of a heritage to send me and my friends to an Irish pub to dance and drink the rainy night away on the 17th of March. By the looks of it, the Irish celebrate this national holiday with great gusto; after all, St. Patrick brought them something new to fight about and then drove out all the snakes. Kidding aside, a country like Ireland, whose Christian heritage has played such an obvious role in its riveting history, does well to acknowledge and celebrate St. Patrick. It makes good sense.

Following that line of logic, wouldn't Canada celebrate St. Joseph's day the same way as the Irish celebrate their patron saint's? Not so much. Canada is funny that way. It's full of saint-honouring Christians from a multitude of ethnic backgrounds, who have played a major role in the education of its citizens, the leadership of the nation, the building of it's infrastructure, and, let's face it, the building of the population itself, so shouldn't we have parades, dress up in brown linen robes and fake beards and decorate our homes and businesses in a hammer and saw motif (St. Joseph was a carpenter, in case you didn't know)? We wouldn't even have to dye our beer. It's available in a multitude of shades of brown already.

Perhaps the times are a-changin', though. I see in the local news that St. Ann's Parish in Abbotsford is having a 'Paddy and Joe Festival' this Saturday with dinner by Dutchman Caterer's (3 entree selection), a live band "The Groggin Noggins", cash bar, and Irish Dancing Entertainment. This new festival is apparently to celebrate the 'solemnity of St. Joseph, Patron Saint of Canada', but everything about it screams St. Patrick's Day. How typically Canadian. We lure you in with the promise of a good party, and while you're here we introduce, very tentatively, a new concept. We don't want to ruffle your feathers or come on like a tonne of bricks, which brings me to my final point: St. Joseph was, by all accounts, a quiet and gentle man, who taught his son how to work with wood, and was supportive to his wife - the ideal family man. He isn't the kind of saint with a resume of flashy miracles performed and wars averted by his influence. To my imagination he is like the good things about Canada itself: understated, humble, subtle in its international influence, but at the same time, always there working away for the good of the world, peacefully smiling over its challenges, enduring 'stormy weather' with patience, and wisely guiding and educating the next generation of 'bright lights'.

So, perhaps we Canadians are more correct than we know in how we celebrate our patron saint's day. St. Joseph probably wouldn't want much of a fuss made over him anyway. Still, while I will not be attending St. Ann's 'Paddy and Joe Festival', I will raise my glass of amber Kilkenny ale and wish you, from my heart, a very happy St. Joseph's Day.

The painting is Georges de la Tour's "St. Joseph the Carpenter" available as a print from

March 15, 2010

Superwoman Reclaims her Solitude

My daughter and her friend at Robson Square and Canada Place on the harbour:

It is Monday morning, the kids are back in school after March break, and the house is very, very quiet. Ahhhhhhh. I was a bit of a Superwoman last week. I spent several days preparing for an event I co-organized with my partner-in-crime The Librarian. For five years now we have put on an International Women's Day event called Women's Words; we invite a writer to put on a workshop in the afternoon and then we host a party of sorts in the evening where women gather at the library to read their writing to a supportive audience (men are invited to come, too but not to read their writing - after all it is called Women's Words). This year The Librarian decided that she and I should give a beginners' workshop, something she has done before but I have not. Needless to say, I put a lot of work into my part of the workshop which was on 'Writing Memories', so I wouldn't look like a fool, and I am happy to report it was a success. The women who participated all enjoyed themselves, said they learned some valuable tools for their 'writer's toolbox', and gained confidence in their own 'voices'. We couldn't have asked for more.

Women's Words was on Wednesday, and on Thursday I spent the entire day spring cleaning my kitchen. I had commandeered my children for a couple of hours to help me. We did this before Christmas, too and it saved me a lot of work. I was able to clean the entire kitchen inside and out in one day instead of two or three (it's a big kitchen with a total of 35 drawers and cupboards). Everyone chose one set of cupboards to clean and I did everything else.

On Friday, my friend Emee and I took nine teenagers (four of them our own) from our church to Vancouver for a day of Paralympic sightseeing. We drove to Burnaby where we parked at a mall and then rode the skytrain into downtown. We toured the Vancouver Art Gallery where we viewed Twentieth Century paintings by Emily Carr, E.J. Hughes and other wonderful British Columbia artists, a sculpture of a bow whale skeleton made entirely of white plastic lawnchairs, and anatomical drawings by Leonardo daVinci. We visited various pavillions and the amazing Public Library with its Romanesque architecture, saw the Olympic cauldron in its beautiful harbour setting, and some of us skated at Robson Square while others went shopping at a giant music store. The city was full of paralympians in wheelchairs, on crutches, etc., enjoying the accessability of everything. Vancouver was in a celebratory mood but not super-crowded like it was a few weeks ago when the main streets were a crush of people in red and white. Finally, we watched the lights come up as dusk fell on the city and then we went home, pale faced and puffy eyed, with tired legs and sore feet, but fully satisfied after our wonderful day.

Perhaps my schedule of events of last week doesn't sound like much to some people, or all in a few day's work for others, but the truth is, I live a fairly quiet life, in a quiet town, centered around my home and the activities of my family. While I do enjoy the occasional burst of excitement, I am always glad when things return to 'normal' once again. I wrote the following poem last year after a similar time of having many demands on my energy and attention. I gave it to a friend for her 40th birthday, but I have recently rewritten it.


While the laundry does itself, wiping out its own stains,
the bathrooms clean themselves,
the breakfast dishes stack themselves like in an old Disney cartoon,
the counter wiped by an enchanted cloth in soapy, circular motions,

She sits and looks out the window at the hump-backed bear shaped mountain.

While the after-school snack bakes itself, scattered papers tidy up
and fall neatly into files,
groceries appear in the cupboards and fridge,
supper prepares itself, simmering savoury flavours on the stovetop,

She re-reads a favourite novel and sips tea from a thin china cup.

While the children answer their own questions and solve their own story problems, mediate
their own arguments and nag themselves to clean their rooms,
She turns the music up and dances around the livingroom, singing at the top of her voice.

While her husband keeps his thoughts about his day to himself and offers himself one or two wise, comforting remarks, knows he needs to go for a walk and suggests they both go...

She puts on her shoes and heads out the door
Where day has put itself away and the dusk doesn't need to talk.

March 5, 2010

Long May You Run

Lately I have taken to making daily lists for myself just to try and keep all the aspects of my life together as I have a fear that I will forget to do something important.
I am writing fundraising letters and making contacts for the children's day I coordinate for our local summer festival of the arts, I'm having informal meetings with the woman for whom I work at her annual tulip festival and painting signs for her, and I am putting on a workshop with our local librarian next week. I'm also reminded every time I open a cupboard in my kitchen that it needs a thorough spring cleaning and pledging to get it done over spring break next week. At least the kids can help with that job.

In the middle of all this, as I was driving my daughter and her friend to play practise last Friday evening, our workhorse of a van died - for good this time - and we had to find a new one, and fast. Yesterday we brought home our new van and our girls named it within five minutes: Heidi the Honda. We have had names for all our vehicles, a fleet of trusty friends, which, when I think of them, hold so many memories of our growth and activity as a family. I was provoked to write a little ditty about all the cars we've owned. So sing along with me!

Betsy was a tercel, a twenty-somethings' car,

She drove us to the ski hills and over to the bar.

She took us to the Yukon on our honeymoon,

We sold her to a friend, but a moose took her too soon (the car, not the friend).

Subie was a white one, a hatchback full of kids,

I learned to drive her stick shift, and crashed her on the skids.

She conquered snow and traffic, was comfortable to drive,

If not for that truck with failing brakes, she might be still alive.

Ruby was the classy one, she cornered something sweet,

She treated us so well until we needed one more seat.

We were sad to see her go but, alas, we had to sell her,

We sold her to a long haired guy, I think his name was Allah.

Our van was christened 'Max', the biggest car we'd ever spied,

She gave us eight good years of fun before she up and died.

We filled her up with everything - skis and camping gear,

Our memories of her are good, she truly was a dear.

So now we'll add another to this list of good old friends,

That carry us along on this road with many bends.

Our new van is a Honda Odyssey, Heidi is her name,

We welcome her with gladness and hope she will remain.

I will try to catch up on everyone's blogs this weekend. Have a great one, and please share your stories about your own trusty vehicles.