How to Speak Canadian

I was born and raised in California, and I didn’t realize how different Canadian culture is compared to American culture. Now that I am spending half of my time living in Ontario with my long- distance boyfriend, I’m realizing how much I didn’t know.

I remember years ago a Korean coworker of mine loved to joke about the white people at work and she would constantly call us “Crackers.” Finally one day, I said to her: “You know, it hasn’t been easy on me. You probably don’t know this but I come from a mixed marriage.” She was very embarrassed and apologized. “Melinda, I am so sorry. I had no idea.” And I said, “Yes, my father was American and my mother is Canadian. It’s been rough on me.”

I may have been making light of a serious struggle that many people genuinely experience, but there were subtle differences in my upbringing. I always thought of my mother as reserved, and nice, and polite. I didn’t realize she was just…Canadian. She was just so different than all the American moms. It puzzled me because in our household, we really didn’t talk about Canada, or her childhood, and she didn’t have any accent of note. And as a child I always thought (and I’m going to offend every Canadian relative and friend I have) Canada was just a smaller version of the U.S. with a bit of a different accent and currency. Well, I was very wrong.

I’m learning that there are some significant differences in language and culture here in Ontario as compared to the West Coast of the U.S. I have compiled a list detailing a few of these differences. Some are just my personal observations, some are language differences, often between myself and my passionately-patriotic, Canadian boyfriend Brad.

Accent: Even though the difference between Canadian and American accents is slight, it does exist, and it has caused some misunderstandings between Brad and me. For example, we were on vacation in Maui and trying to figure out what to do on our last day.
Me: There is a cool sounding hike on this mountain, and then maybe we could go to the waterfowl sanctuary?
Brad: That sounds great! I’d love to do that!
Me: Oh, cool. OK, I didn’t think you’d be that enthusiastic. Awesome!

The road to the hike was closed so we drove and drove and drove until we neared the airport.
Me: OK, it should be right around here.
Brad: Well, that seems kinda weird. We are at sea level.
Me: What does that have to do with anything?
Brad: Um, most waterfalls are not at sea level, especially not by an airport?
Me: Not “waterfall” – “waterFOWL!” As in birds. Who ever heard of a waterfall sanctuary? It’s a sanctuary for birds!
Brad: We are in Hawaii. Of course I thought you said waterfall. And why can’t it be a sanctuary? That sounds very peaceful. I couldn’t understand you with your American accent.
Me: Omg, no it’s waterFOWL. I thought you seemed overly enthusiastic to see birds. We drove all this way. Do you still even want to go?
Brad: Sure. Why not.

We arrive at the small brackish pond, peppered with lots of litter … and no birds. Just a pathetic middle-aged stranger, standing on a pier, looking through binoculars, wearing a baseball cap that said “Toronto.”
Brad: I think this is the worst place you have ever taken us.
Me: Sigh

American cheese: We were going to grill some burgers and I wanted to top them with American cheese. I went to the market and walked up to the cheese counter.
Me: Could I get just a couple of slices of American cheese?
Cheese Girl: American cheese? What’s that?
Me: Yes, like cheese? You put on burgers? It melts well?
Cheese Girl: What, like cheddar? Or is it like swiss?
Me: No…it’s…yes, just give me cheddar. Thank you.

I discussed this with Brad later.
Me: Don’t you guys have American cheese here?
Brad: No. What is it?
Me: You know, the cheese they use typically on fast food burgers?
Brad: Like cheddar?
Me: No!
Brad: That Big Mac song, isn’t there mention of cheddar in there?
Me: No, there isn’t. Because they use American cheese. It’s a little rubbery, yet creamy, with no real flavor, and melts well?
Brad: Oh, you mean Kraft singles. Well yeah, we have that. That’s processed cheese. Nobody actually knows what those are made of.
Me: But that’s American cheese!
Brad: It’s like congealed cheese-gelatin.
Me: Yes, exactly!
Brad: Nobody calls it American cheese.

Ashphalt: Canadian for asphalt.

Beer Store: A chain of stores dedicated to selling just beer. I’m not sure why this necessary. I guess they just like their beer? I really don’t know, but I do know that beer is sacred there.

Bob’s Your Uncle: A phrase Brad uses when he is happy things have come together well, as in “et voila” or “and there you have it.” I had never heard this before and I couldn’t figure out what he was trying to say. It appears to be of British origin.

Boxing Day: December 26th. It’s a holiday in Canada. I haven’t met a Canadian yet who could explain this to me; I had to look it up. Dating back to Victorian England, on this day servants of the wealthy were given the day off as they were typically working on Christmas. They were allowed to celebrate on the 26th and would be handed a box to take home, containing gifts, bonuses and sometimes leftover food.  In my home, we never celebrated it when I was growing up. I asked my mom once what it was because she would refer to it and she said: “It’s the day after Christmas, when Canadians box everything up and return things to the stores.” I really thought that’s what it was for years. I don’t know. Maybe that is how Canadians celebrate? I still need to get to the bottom of this.

Butter Tarts: A delicious pastry filled with a ton of butter, brown sugar and raisins. My mom makes hers with currants and serves them during the holidays. I had no idea growing up that these were Canadian. OMG so delicious.

C-Hair: A unit of measurement. Brad was fixing his thermostat and said he needed to adjust it “a c-hair.”
Me: What’s a c-hair?
Brad: Well, it’s a part of a woman’s anatomy….
Me: Why would you say that? That’s really gross. Why not call it a “p-hair?” Is that a Canadian term?
Brad: No, it’s not Canadian.
Me: I’m looking that up. Ah ha, it is! It is Canadian! It is a Canadian construction term. And, it’s also used by the American military, but that’s not the point…
Brad: See. It’s American.

Canadian Bacon: Hold on to your seats Americans, because this is a real sore spot. There is no such thing as Canadian bacon in Canada. Canadian bacon in the States is actually more like ham and comes from the fatty belly of the pig. Beloved on Eggs Benedict and Hawaiian Pizza. But “Canadian Bacon” in Canada is actually from the pig’s loin and is also rolled in ground yellow peas or cornmeal before being sliced, hence it is called “Peameal Bacon.” I know, wild, huh?! And just a tip: Don’t ever say “Canadian bacon” in Canada. You could incur some wrath.

Curling: National sport where people slide on ice, sweeping a pathway with brooms for a really heavy round stone to land strategically on a bulls-eye. They yell stuff, like “HARD!!!” I’m still slightly confused but at least I am able to stay awake during matches now. I think I’m starting to get it.

Dates: Canadians write dates like Europeans do. For example, May 11th, 2017 is expressed as 11-5-17. I have Canadian clients and took their checks to an American bank to deposit.
Teller: I’m having trouble depositing these, but I’m new. Let me get my supervisor. Supervisor: I’m sorry, but these checks are outdated. We only accept checks for 6 months.
Me: Outdated? But I just got these. What do you mean?
Supervisor: Oh wait, they are from Canada. Sorry! I thought they were from November.

Double Double: If you go to Tim Horton’s, like thee doughnut and coffee place in Canada, and you order a regular coffee, you are going to get it automatically with cream and sugar. Many people order a Double Double, which is two creams and two sugars. Or a Triple, Triple. I drink black coffee and learned this. But now I’m starting to drink coffee with milk and sugar. It’s like I’m evolving into one of them…

Garburator: Canadian for garbage disposal. It seems that no one really knows why it’s called this.

Hockey: Where a nation of the politest people on Earth passionately rejoice over hand-to-hand combat taking place between guys ice skating. Many players have missing teeth, and bleed. They also try to slap a very small, fast-moving “puck” which you can’t really see into a net. Sometimes catfish is thrown out onto the ice. Don’t ask me. There is also a guy named Don Cherry, who appears between periods as a commentator. He looks a bit like Colonel Sanders and dresses in flamboyant suits which all appear to be from China. He talks about hockey but I never really follow what he’s saying. They always show a picture of Blue, his white bull terrier, who apparently died 20 years ago. I like hockey. Especially because I really like Don Cherry. I watch for this reason alone. And yes, we have hockey in the States, but I never watched it, or went to games. This is all new to me.

Holidays: Holidays in Canada are fascinating to me. They have Canadian holidays. And British holidays even though they are not a British territory anymore. And sometimes they celebrate the same holidays as us, BUT on different days. It’s very hard to remember which is which. Like Victoria Day which is the Monday between May 18th – 24th which celebrates Queen Victoria’s birthday. It’s very close in time to our Memorial Day, the last Monday in May. Victoria weekend is also when Canadians plant things because there will likely be no more frost. They also refer to this weekend as May two-four, because it is a party weekend. (See two-four). Do NOT confuse this with May 2nd – 4th. That is not what it means. We celebrate Labor Day on the first Monday in September, as do the Canadians. But there it is called Labour Day. Canadian Independence is July 1st, ours is July 4th. So they take place the same week generally. Thanksgiving in Canada is celebrated on the second Monday in October and deserves its very own entry. (See Thanksgiving).

Homo Milk: Canadian for Vitamin D milk. It’s weird to go to the store and see a carton of milk that says “HOMO.”
Me: That’s kind of politically incorrect.
Brad: There is nothing politically incorrect about it. Homo stands for a lot of things. In Greek it means “same.” It refers to homogenized milk here. Just because everyone in your country is homophobic doesn’t mean it is an offensive term here.

Icing Sugar: This really confused me. I was making a spice cake and needed powdered sugar for the frosting. I couldn’t find it and asked someone for help finding the powdered sugar. They had no idea what I was talking about. But I did indeed find the “icing sugar.” Arg.

I don’t know what to tell you: Brad often says this to me when I’m rambling on and on about something. But one night, he said it during an argument so I thought it might have a different meaning and looked it up. And it said, “A polite way of telling someone to shut the fuck up.” I guess it’s kinda like “Bless Your Heart” in the South. I confronted Brad about his Canadian expression of politeness and he said that is NOT what it means. But now we just say it when we want the other person to shut the fuck up and we act very offended. It’s all in good fun and makes us laugh.

JT: Aka Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister. Handsome, soft spoken, kind, thoughtful, smart, funny, feminist. All things that I think of when I think “leader of the free world.” I know some people won’t agree with me, but that’s how I see it. And I swear to you, during every trip to Canada, someone has to talk to me about Trump. And I end up apologizing, on behalf of our country, to each of them. Trust me. It’s not a good scene here when it comes to this topic. And the Canadians are feeling quite a bit of superiority. And rightly so.

Katie Bar the Door: An expression Don Cherry (see hockey) uses to mean “Trouble is coming.” Apparently this expression isn’t used often outside of the U.S. and it is originally of Scottish origin. I included it though as it was very Cherry, and I love him.

Ketchup Chips: A popular flavor of potato chips in Canada. Kind of a dark burgundy color, and tastes like ketchup mixed with salt and vinegar. A bit repulsive at first, and then … strangely addictive.

LCBO: The Liquor Control Board of Ontario. The only retailer of liquor, wine and beer in the province. They have a quasi-monopoly for alcohol sales in Ontario. They actually have a pretty decent selection and I go here to get my Californian and Washington wines. Interestingly, the Beer Store has a monopoly on 12 and 24 case beers, but you can buy beer at the LCBO, too. And it’s colder beer than what you will find at the Beer Store. This makes no sense to me.

Metric System: OK, look. I’m a smart woman. I’ll figure it out. I just have to do some calculations. But it’s so frustrating that recipes are written in pounds and cups and grocery stores’ measurements are in grams. Arg.

Music: The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has a mandate to make sure that Canadian artists and stories reach the Canadian public. They expect a percentage of broadcast content to be purely Canadian. Everybody loves CanCon (Canadian Content)! I think this is fascinating and also extremely valid. I listen to the CBC constantly and hear musicians, authors and stories out of Canada. I’ve become familiar with some Canadian bands and have fallen in love with songs by the Northern Pikes and The Watchmen. Brad’s band, “Running With Scissors,” performs an all-Canadian tribute, including I’s the B’y (or “I’m the Boy”). This is a ballad from the 1800s out of Newfoundland and a favorite of classrooms and choirs across the country. Canadians are very familiar with this tune. I had never heard it. But now I am waking up singing: “I don’t want your maggoty fish, they’re no good for winter. I could buy as good as that, Down in Bonavista.” Very catchy and jig-inducing.

Newfies: A friendly slang term for people from Newfoundland. Canada is rampant with jokes about Newfies, and apparently Newfies are commonly the source of such jokes. Newfies are characterized by a very strong accent that is extremely hard to understand. To hear how Newfies talk, give this a listen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zqLuIXwsLD  Exceptionally hard workers, those Newfies, according to their reputation. Click hear to listen to a Newfie suggesting he is the right guy for the job and have a good laugh while you are at it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vWlIvfQTck.

Pencil Crayons: Canadian for colored pencils.

Politeness: Canadians are truly polite. If you step on someone’s foot in Canada, they will apologize for being in your way. It’s endearing, and I have to remember to taper my ascerbic wit when I’m there, because people really don’t understand me. But sometimes, I don’t understand them. I’ll be invited to something and I’ll accept, but then I’m left thinking, “Wait, I think they didn’t mean it. I think they were just being polite. I’m not really invited anywhere.” It’s hard to figure this part out.

Runners: Canadian for tennis shoes.

School: Canadians have different words when referring to school. For instance, they don’t say 2nd grade, they say grade 2. Not 7th grade, but grade 7. Not high school but secondary school. Which always confuses me because I think they are talking about middle school, but they aren’t. They don’t know what middle school is; they don’t have it. Middle school is part of elementary in Canada. Brad’s Note*: And we have Universities and Colleges here. Colleges are more vocational, whereas Universities are higher learning. You get a degree from a University and a diploma from a College.

South of the Border: Ok, please understand that I am from California. South of the Border means Mexico to me, as well as it does to most Americans, I would think. To Canadians, this refers to the States. This took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out.
Me: Where are you headed today.
Business Traveler: I’m headed South of the Border.
Me: Oh really? What part?
Business Traveler: I’m going to Monterey (California)
Me: Monterrey? (Mexico). Wow, I guess you will be getting some sun, huh?
Business Traveler: Yes, it should be nice.
Me: Probably some good food.
Business Traveler: Yes, I’m looking forward to it. The golfing should be good.
Me: Oh really? I didn’t know Monterrey (Mexico) was famous for their golf.
Business Traveler: Oh yes, some of the best in the world.
Me: I guess that surprises me. When I think of Monterrey (Mexico) I think of violent crime.
Business Traveler: Really? In Monterey? (California)
Me: Yes! Kidnappings and carjackings and shootings. It’s really bad!
Business Traveler: Well, I think the Pebble Beach area should be fairly safe, no?
Me: Pebble Beach? Oh! You mean Monterey, California! I thought you meant Mexico! Why did I think that? That’s so weird…

Swiss Chalet: A chain restaurant known for its chicken. The Canadian band the Bare Naked Ladies refers to this place as the Chalet Swiss in their song One Week. It’s a bit of an institution, and very important to my boyfriend. He took me there as a bit of a litmus test. Apparently if I did not like it, he would have dumped me. It was yummy, except for the Chalet sauce – very heavy with allspice, I think. Brad could drink this. No thank you.

Thanksgiving: This fascinates me as I love Thanksgiving. It’s a delicious food fest with fantastic leftovers and all-day football, and you get to hang with your family. Which is a good thing. To most people.
Me: I don’t understand why Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving. You didn’t even have any pilgrims.
Brad: It has nothing to do with fucking pilgrims. It’s about being thankful for the harvest. Me: Maybe, but it’s suspiciously like ours but like it never really caught on, you know? Brad: That’s because it’s a celebration of the harvest foods. It has nothing to do with your country.
Me: Oh.

Thanksgiving in the States is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. It’s a very important gathering for family, food and football. It’s been a federal holiday since 1863. The first Thanksgiving was celebrated by 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims in 1621 who enjoyed a three-day feast together. Traditional food varies by region in the U.S. but typical foods on the Thanksgiving table include turkey, stuffing (or dressing, depending on where you are from), squash, green bean casserole with fried onions, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. I have spent days putting together a Thanksgiving meal and it’s absolutely wonderful. It’s a big deal here. Many people celebrate with an after dinner nap on the floor. At least that was how my family always celebrated.

Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving too, but on the second Monday in October. Apparently, the very first Thanksgiving occurred in Newfoundland, Canada in 1578. Yep, before our pilgrim’s celebration. Yes, it’s originally a Newfie thing, except they called it “Tansgibidibinon.” It’s been celebrated as an official holiday since 1879. Thanksgiving corresponds with the English and European harvest festivals. The Canadian Football League holds a nationally televised doubleheader, the Thanksgiving Day Classic. The holiday is not a big deal in Canada, and many people in Quebec don’t celebrate it at all. The Revolutionary War sent scores of American refugees to Canada bringing the customs of American Thanksgiving to Canada, like the food. The protein varies. Maybe turkey, or ham or chicken. But it is typically served with mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, veggies and pumpkin pie – harvest foods. Regional specialties may also include salmon, nanaimo bars and butter tarts. Many people celebrate with a long after-dinner stroll.

Trackpants: Canadian for sweatpants.

Two-four: Canadian for a case of beer.
Brad: Hey, could you swing by the Beer Store and pick up a two-four for the band?
Me: Oh, what, like two four packs?
Brad: (Laughs) No…it’s a case of twenty four beers.
Me: Jesus, can’t you guys just say what you mean? Why do you have all these code words for everything?

Toque (or tuque): A knitted cap worn in cold weather. (I call this a beanie but Brad adamantly says that is NOT what a toque is).

Washroom: Canadian for restroom. I once asked someone where the restrooms were and they had no idea what I was talking about.
Me: Why do you guys call it a washroom?
Brad: The better question is why do you guys call it a restroom. You don’t rest in there. Me: Sometimes I do. Sometimes I take a little rest for a few seconds.
Brad: You wash in a washroom.
Me: Maybe some Americans don’t?
Brad: Uh huh. Exactly.
Me: Apparently we are better rested though.

Zed: Canadian for the letter Z. Brad bought me a mug with the letter “Z” on it. He calls it my “Zed mug.”

As you can see, it’s a bit of a learning curve for me. But that’s ok. I’ve lived in foreign countries before and it always takes a bit of adjustment. It’s just that in my own ignorance, I didn’t realize how foreign Canada actually was. Of course, the similarities far outweigh the differences, and the differences are really pretty fascinating and kinda wonderful. I won’t be emigrating for a few years yet, but I am looking forward to it. But right now, I am madly in love with a Canadian man, who is very nice. He opens doors for me, and carries my shopping bags, and makes me laugh, and treats me well, and we have a ton of fun, despite our cultural differences.

El Poder Hace Más Difícil Que Mientas

Tomar una taza de chocolate con queso
En una isla alejada de la costa española
Hace que respire nuevos aires
Que respire nuevos aires

El poder de la soledad
Es grande y va más allá de la comprensión
Es como un arma
Un arma pacificadora

Seré el primero en darle la bienvenida al sol de España
Ya que se asoma entre mi amor y mi odio
Ese amor y ese odio
Que me hizo jurar que jamás pecaría

Lo único en lo que siempre creí
Se arrastra desde abajo de esta calle
Y tú los verás también
A menos que te asusten…

Pero si se los permites, tu búsqueda
Será casi sin esfuerzo
Será con un extraño
Todos seremos removidos de una manera u otra

To read this poem in English, visit: https://wordpress.com/post/sagittariansojourns.blog/226solitude-5

The Fireman with the Melted Ear

Fireman2

I met him in a room full of hundreds of people
On New Year’s Eve in San Francisco
He said he felt like he had known me his whole life
He told me how he became a fireman
And how much he made a year
And how he melted his left ear off
In a fire one Monday, in March

One night we went to his house
On Magellan Lane
And we ate persimmons and white chocolate
As we sipped 7&7s
His house looked unlived in
He asked me to conduct a séance.
I asked him who he was trying to reach
And he said
“Himself.”

He thought I was a witch
Trying to bring him to the dark side
His heart, so burned, so consumed
From the flames of his life

He paraded me through
The fire station
And wanted to fuck
In the paramedics truck
Where all the dead bodies ride
Because he wanted to feel alive.
He asked me if I could raise the dead
But I said “No.”
I wasn’t a witch
Only a haunted ghost

He couldn’t hear his voice
He couldn’t hear his thoughts
He couldn’t feel his soul
Anymore

Persimmons, white chocolate and 7&7s
He called me a witch
He wanted me to bring him back to life.
But I couldn’t.
And I thought, for a moment, I might be dead too

The Power Makes It More Difficult to Lie

Having a cup of chocolate with bread and cheese
On an island off the coast of Spain
I’m breathing like new bellows,
Breathing like new bellows

The power of solitude
Is great and beyond understanding
It’s like a weapon,
A pacifying weapon

I’ll be the first to praise this Spanish sun
As it lifts me through my love and anger
That love and anger,
That made me swear I would never be your sinner

Everything that I ever believed
Crawls from underneath this street
And you will see them too,
Unless they frighten you…

But if you let it, your search
Will be relatively effortless
That one you stand in with a stranger
We’ve all been removed in one way or another

Photo: solitude by serhatdemiroglu

What Food Would Your SO Be?

I love food. I bit obsessively so. I love to read about it, watch TV about it, write about, cook it, and of course, eat. A lot. When my friend Heather and I were traveling by train to Sicily, we met an Italian guy who offered to take us to his family’s estate for lunch. We thought that sounded lovely. And then he said, “Yes, you girls like to eat?” He looked us up and down and exclaimed, “Yes! I think so!!!” He was very puzzled why we didn’t go…

Anyway, to get back to my point, I do love to eat and read about food. One of my outlets is the Ina Garten Fanclub (also known as the Barefoot Contessa) on Facebook . It’s a roughly 90,000 international member group that share my love of food. Posts cover everything from recipe success and failures, questions about techniques, requests for meal ideas, etc.

I posed the question to the group the other day: If your significant other was a food, what would they be? And I got back some interesting responses, like these:

  • “Lasagna with a glass of moscato and a nice slice of chocolate brownie loaded with nuts and chocolate chips.”
  • “”He’s a salted caramel chocolate cheesecake that makes me feel good from my toes to the top of my head!!”
  • “He is grumpy, so…. sour cream doughnut with black coffee. And no cream.”
  • “Sausage mash with onion gravy, vegetables and a Yorkshire pudding. Not as light as he could be and occasionally a bit stodgy – but warm, comforting and reliable. Never lets you down – 34 years”
  • “A big juicy cheeseburger with onion rings and a rootbeer float.”
  • “Champagne with stilton and balsamic glaze on a butter crisp cracker. Champagne has a secondary fermentation after all, and stilton is well-aged before being acceptable.”
  • “My husband said he is like an old sundried lemon, old and sour. I think he’s pretty sweet. We’ve been together 40 years.”

My freshly-baked, butter croissant alongside a warm café au lait sweetened with sugar says he will be home from work early tonight. I find him very comforting and soothing, just the right amount of sweetness, and exceptionally satisfying. He’s the best part of my morning, and I’m not a morning person. Can be enjoyed any time of day.

Tell me, what kind of food is your Significant Other? Comment below.eyeem-99336493

The Lunch Box

School Lunch.jpgI always thought that my choice to be a working mother was the right one, both for me and for my family. But my daughter recently recounted a story to me that made me question that decision.

A long time ago, when I was a teenager in fact, I decided to be a career woman. My father died of cancer when I was 14 and I watched my stay-at-home mother go through a lot of personal struggles trying to establish her independence afterwards. I made a resolution that I would never be in that position. Life holds too many unknown factors and you have to plan for the worst. In my mind, financial independence meant freedom, security and survival.

After college, I established myself in public relations and marketing and had a pretty good career going. I flew on private jets sometimes, had dinners in some of the finest establishments, and worked for executives in the Bay Area placing stories in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, for example.

Then I had Mackenzie. I went back to work in marketing about four months after my daughter was born. Despite negative snipes from some of my male colleagues, I needed to help support our family and I genuinely liked the work. It was emotionally excruciating leaving her every day at daycare, but I tried to remind myself of the positives: she will learn to be more social, they will give her stimulating activities, and she will have a stronger immune system from being immersed in a petri dish on a daily basis.

I always took a lot of care making dinner for my family, often putting in quite a bit of time making something both nutritious and delicious for the three of us. But I stubbornly drew that line at school lunches. I was NOT going to make lunch for Mackenzie. Period. I was too exhausted from working. Once she hit elementary school, I felt Mackenzie could buy lunch.

Personally, I always looked forward to buying lunch at school when I was a kid. That thick focaccia-like pizza cut into large squares and lightly brushed with sauce. If it was a good day, the cheese wouldn’t stick to the aluminum foil covering. And those chocolate chip cookies! The oversized, brown sugar heavy crunchy cookies that cost $.10 and were awesome alongside those tiny cartons of cold, Vitamin D milk. It was fun, and I thought Kenz might like it too. Wouldn’t a hot meal be better than the lunches in my memory: a baloney and butter sandwich, flattened by an extra heavy navel orange?

My daughter is in middle school now and as much as I encourage her to make her own lunch, she doesn’t have the energy or desire after studying until 10pm some nights.

Currently, I work from home, and I thought I might finally change my ways. On Tuesday I decided to make her lunch. I made a honey ham and salami sandwich on Dave’s Killer White Bread with some high-quality mayo from Whole Foods, a Ziploc baggy of red and yellow grape tomatoes, a maple white chocolate Think Thin bar and a stroopwafel cookie I brought home from Amsterdam. She had a week of school district testing ahead of her, so I also included a notecard with some over-the-top affirmations of love just to elicit that teenage-eyeroll. And it was all kinda fun.

When I picked up Kenzie from the bus, I asked her what she thought of her lunch.

“Oh yeah, that was great Mom,” she said sarcastically. “I went to go get some water and my friends went through my lunch bag and they found your notecard. Real hilarious. They bugged me about that the whole day.”

“You didn’t like my card?” I laughed. “I knew you were in testing and I just wanted to brighten your day.”

“Yeah, don’t do that.”

She got deep in thought for a few minutes and said, “I remember back in elementary school all my friends’ mothers used to make them these great lunches every day. They would have their little sandwiches, cut into perfect rectangles, and their mothers would all write them little notes and put them in their lunch bags. I always had to buy my lunch so I never had that. One day, I actually took a paper towel, and wrote my own note from you. I even put a piece of candy with it. Just so I could be like the rest of them.”

Insert knife into heart….

I had no idea. I think I was one of the few moms at Wilder Elementary in the Seattle suburb who had a full-time job. The other moms volunteered at the school together, hung out together, knew each other. They were all really nice ladies who were acquaintances that I might run into at a soccer game, or at a school play. This was a Microsoft-heavy community, and I was not one of them. My life was made up of meetings, and tradeshows and working with industry editors.

The role of the working mother is something that is pretty hotly debated. Some women don’t have a choice in this matter; they have to work. I did choose, and this story from my daughter brought up a lot of regret for me. It wasn’t the first time I had had those feelings, but I always quickly resolved them in my mind. This time really affected me though. Maybe because it was about food, and nurturing, and a sense of belonging?

Yesterday I told my daughter that I was going to write about this, and I told her how I was feeling.

“Mom,” she said, “I like that you work. I think that’s why I’m such an independent person. I know I can take care of myself. I wouldn’t be this way if you stayed home. I’m pretty sure about that. And when dad lost his job, you supported us. What would we have done if you didn’t have a job?”

The thing is, she is really independent. She always has been. She gets herself up at 6am every morning whether I’m up or not. She is the most punctual person I have ever encountered. She studies every night without me ever saying anything. I think maybe this was her way of surviving. She became this way out of necessity? And I don’t think that is such a bad thing.

I’m a working mom, and I’m not able to change that. I’m just going to press on, and continue to try to grow my business. But I think I’m going to be making lunches for her from now on. And I might just slip a notecard with over-the-top affirmations in every now and then. Even if it’s just to elicit the teenage eyeroll.

 

 

A Fondue Tradition

I don’t know when we started it, but every year my daughter Mackenzie and I go out for fondue for Mother’s Day. Not only is it totally indulgent but it typically sparks some great girl talk and general silliness.

We’ve been heading to the Melting Pot in Bellevue for years. It’s a chain, and it’s pricey, but it’s nice for a special occasion. There are better fondue restaurants in the States for sure, but it’s a tradition now, and my daughter is all about traditions for some reason. It’s not better than my fondue by a long shot, but I don’t make chocolate fondue, and that’s the sales catch for my teenage daughter.

Last night was an absolute treat. We started with salads, had the Alpine Swiss fondue with bread, green apples, raw veggies and cured meats, and then we tried the Bananas Fosters white chocolate fondue. Definitely on the sweet side, it was mixed with dulce de leche, caramelized bananas and sprinkled tableside with cinnamon which caused an explosion of neon orange sparks. So good to dip fresh strawberries into and coat with that warm, cinnamon-white chocolate sweetness.

I know why I do this every year, and I used to make my own every year on New Year’s Eve. It brings back one of my life’s fondest food memories.

When I was 22 and backpacking through Europe, my best friend Heather and I made our way to Switzerland. I was often referencing Rick Steve’s “Europe Through the Back Door” that trip. The book was dog-eared and torn at this point; there were so many incredible, out of the way, virtually unknown places to visit throughout Europe. And we went to many of them.

Hitchhiking was an option way back in the old days, so we hitched a ride in the French Swiss Alps from a young, blonde French guy driving a red sports car. We quickly zigzagged through the mountain passes until we reached a remote dirt road. He dropped us off and we were left to stare down this narrow passage through rolling green hills dotted with hundreds of cows.

Heather and I started walking. According to the book, Rick had promised a restaurant on this “street” where we could bunk in the attic for $10 a night. We trekked on with our heavy backpacks weighing us down as curious cows surrounded us, their cowbells hollowly echoing in the alpine breezes.

After what seemed like about a mile, we finally spotted the small restaurant. I communicated with the owner our intentions in my lousy French, and he agreed to let us stay.

The restaurant itself was small, and warm, with a huge black cauldron hanging in the fireplace for reasons unknown. We settled in for dinner – fondue, of course. They made their own cheese here from their own cows, and some local white wine to sip alongside.

But it was this fondue that I will never forget. It wasn’t thick cheese which clung to the ciabatta-like bread resulting in long pulled strings of cheese you see glorified in America’s marketing materials. It was almost more like a thick broth, so saturated with dry white wine, and a clinginess of the salty, nutty gruyere. The light and airy bread cubes thirstily absorbed the liquid making it soft and permeated, providing the kind of eye-rolling experience where you just have to pause and say “My God. So THIS is fondue.”

Needless to say, we extended our trip, and likely our welcome at this little restaurant nestled in foothills of the French Swiss Alps. The attic….well, I think there were beds in it? I don’t quiet remember actually. I do remember that there weren’t any lights. Every night we were plunged into darkness, listening to the wind howling down from the mountain peaks and into the valley, while the cowbells echoed hauntingly in the distance. Heather, obsessed with vampires at the time, filled the darkness with her with anxious, violent paranoias.

The days that week in June were filled with hiking through the rolling hillsides and admiring the assorted rainbow of wildflowers. There were also a few “birdbaths” in the icy streams since our little restaurant did not have a shower. But the evenings were spent sipping wine, playing cards, and being so truly grateful to enjoy that food of the Swiss Gods.

But our need for a shower began to outweigh our love of fondue. So we pressed on. I spent some time trying out fondue recipes. I came across this one long ago from Bon Appetit magazine in 2004, which I really enjoy. It calls for rehydrated porcini mushrooms, which I skip most of the time. But it captures that liquid, rich quality that I had, somewhere in Switzerland, at an unknown restaurant, that week in June.