Never too old to believe in the spirit of Christmas

Finding holiday cheer

It’s the time of year when almost everyone wants to feel not just good, but full of cheer.

I don’t mean the kind of cheer that is in the punch bowl at the company party, rather the spirit of the season. What is it that gives you that spark?

For me, the spirit of the season is entwined in all sorts of classic traditions and stories. I am a fan of them all.

Yes, I am that annoyingly cheery person, who loves The Grinch (the animated one is still my fave), A Christmas Carol and of course It’s A Wonderful Life. On Sunday, I’m getting my picture taken with Santa.

When I was a kid, I wanted to grow up to be the kind of adult who still believed. Like the editor who wrote to Virginia to explain how Santa lives even in a modern world or the boy in The Polar Express who still hears the bell beyond childhood, I am a keeper of the faith.

I suppose many of you will say, “Bah, humbug”, just as Scrooge did all those years ago. I don’t mind. If you are comfortable with your humbugs, then I wish you well. I’ll just be over here, baking and decorating shortbread to share and wrapping up a few things to give others a taste of the magic.

Others will say that stuff is all for the kids. Who said we had to deprive ourselves of a chance to be delighted and amazed once we got older? We grow out of clothes, but we don’t have to grow out of having a sense of wonder. I, for one, plan on keeping mine until my very last days.

There has long been the lament that the positivity which surfaces during the holiday season would be greatly enjoyed at other times in the year. Unfortunately, it seems that only the perfect storm of twinkling lights, decorations, melodic upbeat tunes, and plenty of treats will create such a dynamic.

In a world full of change, even a few weeks of cheer seems challenging. Perhaps people’s desire to search for something new and different is part of why many eschew old traditions and methods. The constant debates about what is sustainable or appropriate sometimes mean the essence of doing something kind or generous is lost in the kerfuffle.

I am someone who was born on the cusp – right between the baby boomers and Gen X. I remember “the good old days,” hearing the Christmas carols that Bing Crosby and Elvis sang right alongside “current” hits from The Jackson 5 and The Carpenters. Cocktail weinies and cheese balls were the avant-garde party fare when I was growing up.

I still make the same treats I had as a kid, from the recipes passed down to me by my mom. I have ornaments for the tree going back to my first Christmas on my own. I don’t have the energy for putting up tinsel every year, but I will be doing it this year.

All this does not mean I’m not open to new ideas. I have friends who celebrate Festivus, which I think is fantastic. The true meaning of the season for me is about gathering with loved ones, sharing with them and giving back to the community. The magic is in the people, not the things.

Believing goes hand in hand with trusting. Virginia knew that when she wrote her letter. She said, “Papa says, if you see it in The Sun, it is true. Tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?” She trusted her papa, and she trusted the editor to tell her the truth.

Maybe that is where we need to do some work. If we find a way to trust people, we can believe when someone gives us an answer like this, as Francis Church did in 1897:

“You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
“No Santa Claus! Thank God! He lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”

I do believe that some things can stand the test of time. So, here’s to the holidays, whichever one you celebrate.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


The secrets behind 'secret' family recipes

Beloved family foods

The holiday season is upon us. Are you ready?

There was American Thanksgiving (on Thursday) and its groaning table of family favourite dishes, a plethora of snacks and treats made to give or share, and of course the various celebrations across the world with centuries of traditional meals prepared for a table of loved ones. Just think of all those secret family recipes.

The catch to a recipe becoming a family favourite is that it must be practical for it to survive. Recipes that are overly complicated or contain exotic ingredients end up not being made very often. Those recipes might be in a family cookbook, but they are often not passed down as regular dishes we remember.

I have a few secret family recipes I have shared with readers over the years, and I know everyone has something they remember fondly from their childhood. When we grew older and wanted to recreate these magical moments, that’s when we likely asked Mom or Grandma (or my Auntie Max, when it came to pickled beets).

How many of you had the same experience that I did? I’ll recount my version, and you can let me know if it sounds familiar.

It was my first Thanksgiving hosting guests for dinner. I wanted to make pumpkin pie, and I loved my mom’s recipe. My mom and my aunt shared many recipes in those days, and back then a long distance phone call was a big expense for a university student. I called my cousin who lived just down the road.

“Oh ya”, he said. “Mom told me the recipe last year. Gotta pen?” I was ready, recipe book and pen in hand.

“It’s tricky. The most important thing is to have the best ingredients. You’ll need to make a special trip to buy everything. She told me first to go to the grocery store and look for Libby’s Pumpkin purée. Not the pie filling, the pure pumpkin.”

“Pumpkin purée, got it”, I said as I scribbled. “What next?” I was trying desperately to remember how many eggs, if it was dark or light brown sugar, and what were all those spices?

“Are you ready?” he asked. Here was the real secret, I just knew it. “She told me to look on the back of the can. The recipe is right there.”

We both laughed. We already knew the amazing pie crust was the result of using the recipe on the Tenderflake box. This amazing holiday classic came down to a bit of grocery marketing. Part of me felt like I’d been duped. The other part – the one connected to my tummy - was happy to be in on the secret.

Over the years I have kicked the spices up a notch, and that’s the pumpkin pie recipe I have on my Happy Gourmand blog, recorded for posterity. I didn’t want to leave anyone hanging.

The rest of my family classics are there too, like Mom’s Shortbread (link: https://happygourmand.wordpress.com/recipe-archives/moms-shortbread-cookies/ ) (that one was on a calendar page from a flour company) and Tuna Casserole (link: https://happygourmand.wordpress.com/recipe-archives/tuna-casserole/ ) (a Campbell’s Mushroom Soup recipe).

There are a few recipes I wrote down once I figured them out. My Icelandic grandmother, also known as Amma, had a recipe for the traditional Vinertarta cake (link: https://happygourmand.wordpress.com/recipe-archives/vinarterta-icelandic-christmas-cake/ ), popular at this time of year. But it said, “use enough flour to make a soft cookie dough.” How soft, Amma? (She was not around for me to ask.)

Do you have family favourites? Do you know how to pass them on to future generations? If not, perhaps that could be a mission this holiday season.

All our timeworn favourites are no less classic if the recipe comes from a bottle or can or box. They were all made with love - an ingredient that makes everything taste better. And knowing the story of how the love was put on your family table will make them even more delectable.

That’s why I still love my mom’s pumpkin pie.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

A side dish can sidetrack a meal

Importance of side dishes

American Thanksgiving is coming up, and with it is a plethora of suggestions all over food-related media about how to create the perfect meal.

This classic holiday meal is like any other—it’s as much about the side dishes as the turkey, ham or roast that adorns the holiday table.

Holidays are steeped in tradition and tradition is often all about the little things, like side dishes. Those seemingly innocuous dinner items can derail the whole evening if they are messed with. Tell me I’m wrong. I bet your family has something that fits the bill.

When I was little, our family developed our traditions from the combination of my mom’s favourite things and my dad’s. There were things that survived the years, and others that didn’t.

My mom loved tomato aspic, which is by most people’s standards a horribly savoury interpretation on jellied salad. I liked it, but I know it’s not a crowd pleaser.

On the other hand, my dad’s family had what they called “apple salad”, which my mom tried to elegantly rename Waldorf Salad – but that was supposed to be made with mayonnaise and apples and my dad’s version had whipped cream. As a kid, which one do you think I voted for?

Over the years, the apple salad did get walnuts, and the old-school taste of aspic was replaced by old-school British-style bread stuffing (or dressing, if that’s what you call what gets put in the turkey). It had sausage and dried fruit, maybe, or nuts along with the array of herbs and spices. Everybody made compromises, and we were all still very thankful.

We never had marshmallows in any side dishes – not on the yams, and not in an Ambrosia Salad. I have not tried green bean casserole to this day, and mac n’ cheese just seems like overkill to me on a holiday table. That’s not to say I wouldn’t try any of those things if given the chance.

The only evolution our mashed potatoes made was when my mom discovered they tasted better made with cream instead of milk. I love them whipped, but I know friends who are nostalgic about Aunt So-and-So’s lumpy mash. Love always wins.

I have heard stories about many different signature quirks from folks over the years. Some of my favourites:

• Smother the broccoli or cauliflower in cheese sauce; that makes it tolerable. (The same story apparently applies when adding bacon to the Brussel sprouts.)

• Don’t ever forget to put the potato water in the gravy. (It was supposed to add flavour and help it thicken from the potato starch. My husband says that is a real wives’ tale. Don’t bother.)

• Cranberry jelly is supposed to be on the table in the shape of the tin can. Debate over this one has been known to cause deep rifts in family circles.

The cranberry jelly debate is part of what inspired my stepdaughter to contribute to her new in-laws’ holiday table. She made a delightful cranberry relish with orange zest. Little did she know her father-in-law was one of the “it should be shaped like the can” folks.

Thankfully, he was willing to try a new version of his tried-and-true condiment and he liked the variation.

On the other side of the table, my stepdaughter was not as thrilled with the apple salad. The world is not perfect.

But yes, there is a happy twist in that tale. I managed to end up with extended family that loves apple salad made just the way I like it. What are the odds? Better than the lottery, I can tell you that much.

Finding happy connections with family is the true secret to peace – at least at the dinner table.

So you see, it’s worth saving your stories of weird side dishes as tales for the grandkids. They might meet people who are the same kind of weird as them, if they’re lucky.

If you are hosting a holiday meal this winter, maybe you want to try something new – or even old school. I found a fascinating link from a food blogger in Oklahoma named Ree Drummond. Her Pioneer Woman blog is now an institution.

If you want down-home goodness, she’s got it. How about 110 ideas for side dishes?

If you’d like the health-conscious approach, then here is a lovely article with dishes that could accompany any winter meal.

Let’s face it, we all know the real magic comes in sharing it all. Remember to enjoy your company and if you’ve been invited, remember to enjoy the adventure.

A few spoons’ full of weirdness could do us all a bit of good.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Bringing Remembrance Day awareness with food

More than not forgetting

On Friday, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, we were asked to remember those who served our country, past and present.

We do this every year on the same day as part of our custom of showing respect for veterans and gratitude for our rights and freedoms.

In Canada, we are fortunate because although many soldiers went to war, the front lines didn’t come to us. As a result, the Remembrance Day memories are literally not as close to home. For a few generations now, there has also not been a “great war”, so for many of us it might be hard to understand the depth of sacrifice made by people who experienced it.

Even for those who stayed home, wartime was full of changes in daily life. This week, for our Girl Guides, I made a British cookie recipe that was adapted during the Second World War, when some food items were rationed. They were less delicious than modern-day favourites, but we agreed, any cookie was better than none.

I think tasting a cookie that has a flavour of “making do” helped them understand a bit about sacrifice. But when I explained the idea of having to give up things—like stuffies—for the greater good, that really hit home.

You see, for us to be grateful, we need to make a connection between two different situations. If we understand what it takes to get from one situation to another, then gratitude comes more easily.

Often, when we are grateful (recognizing we are in the better situation), we want to give to others, in hopes their situation can improve too. (As in, sharing food, especially with those less fortunate or able to prepare their own.)

The tricky part is when we give everything to others and there is not as much, or even none, left for us. That’s when we call it a sacrifice.

Past generations spent Novembers, and all the other months during the wars, with rations and shortages. Slogans such as “Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do or Do Without” were put on posters. People got creative during wartime.

Women painted their legs with brown lines to imitate the look of stockings. Spam was invented to replace the lack of bacon and sausage. People grew “victory” gardens and learned to preserve foods—a household’s sugar ration could even be increased for canning purposes. Necessity really was the mother of invention.

In today’s world, we have had it pretty good. Some would say our most recent battle was the pandemic. There were no formal rations here, but store limits were set when some supplies ran short.

People took up making sourdough, and gardening, even canning. The soldiers in this battle were medical workers (as in previous battles) but other front-line workers (using wartime terminology) were folks working in shops or driving supply trucks on their regular routes.

Perhaps the veterans who fought on the front lines these last few years will be remembered in some way like the veterans of past wars. Remembering we are all connected in our experiences helps us to be sympathetic, even possibly more kind.

November is a month of gratitude, with American Thanksgiving, the start to the winter holiday season, Giving Tuesday, etc.

I wonder, will that keep us mindful of how fortunate we are to be here? I hope so.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More Happy Gourmand articles

About the Author

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

Kristin says:

"Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that 'sense of place' from where the food has come . . . the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had."


E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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