The morning after I turned forty, the power went out.
At first I worried about the significance of the lights going out on the first day of my new decade, but in fact it wasn’t so bad. It was a drizzly day, and we (we grown-ups, at least) were all feeling a little foggy from the previous night’s enthusiastic consumption; we lit candles and gathered vintage silk and Mongolian lamb and feather pillows and coverlets and curled up.
My sister was here for the briefest of wonderful visits, so we took advantage, drinking perfect coffee (courtesy of the restaurant around the corner) and looking out at the rain and reveling in the chance to be together, which doesn’t happen for us nearly as often as I’d like.
At a certain point my husband dashed out for provisions and we opened the last of the bubbly. My sister kept me company while I made dessert for the following day’s Thanksgiving feast. An easy, comforting dinner, a little more wine, an early bedtime – and, just like that, the weekend of my big birthday was over.
My sister flew home early the next morning.
And now I am forty – the age I had been approaching with a mix of curiosity and dread all these months, the age I was determined to be on the right side of, to be content with, to somehow conquer – and nothing has changed.
Things here carry on as they do, haphazard and beautiful.
This weekend, we are having a party.
I have more blessings than I know how to count.
Our summer ended abruptly and sadly just before Labour Day.
I won’t go into the details, but we were left reeling and panicked with worry over someone we love; and even now, roughly six weeks later, everyone having settled into a quasi-routine with this new normal, we are living with a degree of heartache which will, I feel, possibly diminish but never quite disappear.
As it happens, though, I woke up this morning and realized that we are just over a week into my very favourite month of the year – all of us (and all of you too, no doubt) having navigated September like so many hamsters on wheels, careening slightly from one moment to the next – and that there is some mindful celebrating to be done.
This is our month, friends, to give thanks and acknowledge joy and look forward with some gladness.
Just before we leap in to all of that goodness, I hope you’ll permit me this brief backward glance, a grateful goodbye to one of the dreamiest summers on our family’s record and a salute to the September that was – just as it was.
The garden was out of hand – in the best possible way.
New views were discovered, and new paths taken.
The training wheels came off.
We ate dozens of salads and piles of cake and drank glasses and glasses of Pimms.
We shared amazing moments with family and friends.
We made a pie.
My young son went to school for the first time.
The leaves began to turn.
And this dress sits glimmering in my cupboard, biding its time until the next celebration…any minute now.
Early in July, two or three days into her summer holidays, my daughter told me she was bored.
It was the first time in her life that she had made such a pronouncement, accompanied by a sigh and an air of world-weariness that was both amusing and mildly alarming – she is, after all, just barely seven – but it was not the last.
Not even close.
(I remember having that feeling as a child: I’m not sure I was bored, exactly, but being untethered from the daily routine of the school schedule was, no matter how welcome, sometimes a little deflating. So I should have been sympathetic – and in fact I was, for the first while, but then – predictably – my tolerance waned.)
But I am here to tell you, friends, that despite my daughter’s pre-pre-adolescent murmurs of discontent, this summer has been nothing approaching boring.
In the past week alone, there were four cakes baked, three birthday celebrations, two actual birthdays, and one quickened-heartbeat-inducing top secret photo shoot (about which I will gladly tell you more when it is published, in October).
We have begun a holiday-Monday family tradition involving this place.
We have discovered magical hidden parts of our city.
We have purchased airplane tickets and are counting down days.
My garden has grown wilder.
And the other night, in the midst of this delightful, demanding, madcap and anything-but-boring stretch of weeks, the light shifted slightly and a breeze came through the screen door, bringing the kind of cool air that signals imminent change, making me want to catch my absent husband and my perfect summer and my no-longer-babies in my arms and tell them:
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
It was a rough morning around here.
Just when we thought there was a whiff of spring in the air, it began to snow. The clouds seem impenetrable.
I am overtired – we all are – and aching.
But, friends, it’s March, which means that despite all evidence to the contrary, spring really is just around the corner.
The snow will melt, the clouds will lift, the pain will fade.
We’re getting there.
In the meantime, I’ve been enjoying this glorious short film – directed by Luca Merli and discovered, by delightful chance, here – and making my best effort at “letting go of the anxiety of tomorrow.”
I am not overly fond of winter.
I should consider myself lucky, living as I do in relatively balmy southern Ontario – where winter is a bit of a joke compared to what most of the rest of the country has to face – but even still.
I can’t stand this weather.
I am never properly dressed for it. It makes me miserable, pinched and parsimonious, and I have been known to stay indoors for entire days just to avoid going out in it.
(I bet you can hear my whining even from way over there.)
So it was a great relief to pack bags and retreat to the sunny southern Baja last month. My husband was with us for just over a week, but my kids and I were away a full 16 days, obliterating the end of January and the first several days of February in a haze of hot afternoons and cold drinks and sunshine so bright it was nearly (but not really) unbearable.
We were there visiting my parents, imposing ourselves on the magical, bohemian life they lead in the winter: days spent on a beach largely deserted save for the wild horses who live there; fish tacos for lunch in a restaurant with a sand floor. The blender running just before sun down, nights perfectly cool for sleeping outdoors, and a greatest-hits list of favourite dinners from my childhood – a different one each night.
My kids ran wild and free, making friends with every single person they met, and even though we’ve been home for over a month now they are still asking me when we can go back. Before sleeping, we talk about the parts they miss the most: for my son, it’s the roosters; for my daughter, her grandmother.
I’m thinking longingly of that trip this morning, having woken up with a sore back to another frigid, grey, wintry day.
I’m marking off March with lines on the wall.
I’m already planning for next year.
I have spent many a February 14th thinking about love and romance.
Lipsticked and red-stockinged, outrageously shod, fur-coated, occasionally melancholy, rarely single, and often annoyed by the crass commercialism of it all, I have always had a kind of perverse fondness for marking Valentine’s day in one way or another.
In theory, I do like the idea of spending a whole day wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve, making grand declarations, overspending on the wine and the food, getting down on bended knee.
But in actual fact, I am not overly comfortable with any of those things, and I have been infamously irritated when on the receiving end of them in real life. When it comes to romance, I shy away from the grand gesture. I don’t like being boxed in.
I never have.
Ask me about love these days, though, and I will unsheepishly tell you that I can’t get enough. Love from my sweet and complex children, and from my husband, who is those things and so many more.
Life with these three and their love is essentially the glue that holds me together
(and there it is, friends, my heart on my sleeve).
Happy Valentine’s Day!
This is my girl.
She’s bright and kind and compassionate and sharply articulate.
My girl. Isn’t she something?
I love a leap year.
In this era where nearly everything can be adjusted to suit standards that seem more exacting by the day, where we calculate our time down to the second on a regular basis and even a baby’s birth can be scheduled, there is something to be celebrated – something pleasingly archaic if slightly bizarre – in the continuing existence of February 29th.
The only down side is that it prolongs the end of this dreary month, which, as far as I am concerned, could not come soon enough.
Just when I thought I had endured this balmy winter largely unscathed, I was beset recently by the dreaded seasonal slump – I’ve mentioned it before, and I even had the temerity to suggest that I had avoided it this year; but that was sadly not the case (as evidenced in part by the recent waffle-mania that has overtaken our house).
So we aren’t celebrating the extra day in February, exactly.
It’s been an eventful few years – which coming from me, having lived a fairly unconventional and action-packed life, is saying a great deal – and although there were some harrowing times that I could certainly have done without, most of the time I marvel at how far we have come.
This recipe takes me back to the early days of my first pregnancy, and the beginning of my time here: a time when I felt utterly unmoored, far from everyone who knew me well and overwhelmed by what I had undertaken when I decided to embrace this new life, new love, new neighbourhood – and vastly empty new home.
But before it did I made a batch of socca one cold, bright March afternoon and ate it off a paper towel with my fingers, sitting on the floor all alone and looking out the bare kitchen window and shaping, in my mind’s eye, a life.
A long way, indeed.
I have made one addition to to this simple recipe, and fiddled somewhat with the method, so if you are a stickler you’ll find the original here. This is a southern French dish, ideally paired with cold rose served in tumblers in the heat of an August afternoon, but for some reason it always comes calling for me at this time of year.
2c chickpea flour
2 tsp coarse sea salt
2 tsp ground cumin (I am currently obsessed with roasted cumin and would recommend that if you can find it, but regular ground cumin is of course more than fine)
a generous grinding of black pepper
2c warm water
1/4c extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, halved lengthwise and then thinly sliced, lengthwise
2-4 tbsp olive oil (not necessarily extra virgin, since it’s going into a very hot pan)
Sift flour into a large mixing bowl. Add salt, cumin and pepper and stir to combine, then slowly whisk in water to form a smooth batter. Whisk in extra virgin olive oil. Cover and let the batter sit for as long as possible, ideally an hour or two and overnight if it comes to that.
Set a 10-inch cast iron skillet on a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Stir onions into batter.
When oven and pan are hot, remove pan from heat; swirl about a tablespoon of olive oil into the pan, then add a scant ladleful of batter, tilting the pan so that the batter reaches the edges and thinly coats the bottom. Return pan to oven and cook 8-10 minutes, until batter is golden around the edges. Gently flip the socca in the pan; return to the oven and cook a further 3-4 minutes, until golden and crispy on both sides.
Slide socca onto a plate and eat (or serve) immediately.
Repeat with remaining olive oil and batter.
Makes six beautiful socca.
I have attempted several times to write about our holidays thus far, and each time it’s been a struggle to express the balance of joy and relief and heart-filling happiness and exhaustion – and also the sense that memories are being made every second, and the need to document them while still being fully present in the moment – that is Christmas time with young children.
It’s been wonderful, and zany, and at points overwhelmingly emotional.
We have missed family, and shed tears for lost loved ones. We have ached for friends who are enveloped in grief.
We have celebrated our good health and our good life and our great good fortune, to have all that we do.
And today – blessed first of January! – we cracked into a brand new year.
I got out first thing, before it started to rain, and when I got home we drank the last of the bubbly and said a fond farewell to our Christmas tree.
And we ate an enormous breakfast, which we all enjoyed…
And then there was dancing.
Giant Baked Blueberry Pancake for Auspicious Beginnings
3/4c whole milk
3/4c light spelt (or all purpose) flour
1 tbsp plus 1/4c granulated sugar
1/4c (packed) dark brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4c soft unsalted butter
scant 3/4c frozen blueberries
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk eggs and milk together, then add flour and 1 tbsp granulated sugar. Whisk to combine (batter will be slightly lumpy). In a small bowl, stir together remaining granulated sugar, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Set aside.
Heat 2 tbsp butter in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Pour batter into pan and scatter blueberries over top.
Bake 8-10 minutes, until edges of pancake are puffed and golden but centre is still slightly runny. Remove from oven, and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon mixture.
Dot with remaining 2 tbsp butter, and carefully turn the pancake over in the pan. Return pan to oven and cook a further 3-5 minutes, until pancake is risen and golden and sugar has turned to syrup.
Remove from oven and invert pancake onto a serving plate. Cut into wedges and serve immediately.