Category Archives: Food for thought

Happy Birthday B&B!


Though things have been extremely hectic on my end lately, I wanted to make sure that B&B’s first birthday didn’t go by unnoticed.  Over the last year, B&B has been a place for me to share my thoughts, stories, recipes  — and most recently, my sorrows.  Thank you so much lovely readers for being there with me on this journey, and for supporting B&B with your comments and emails!

Funnily enough, a couple of days before B&B’s birthday, I received a text message from my friend Dina saying “I am making baklava tomorrow, want to come over and babble?”.  I could not help but laugh to myself, but also thought – what better way to celebrate B&B’s birthday! So..off to Dina’s I went, and babble and baklava we did.  In honour of this very special occasion, I have a tried and tested baklava recipe for you.  Make sure to make it in the company of good friends so that you too can babble & baklava! Special thanks to Dina over at thispassinglife and to Step by Step Baking (Caroline Bretherton) from whom the recipe was adapted.

Ingredients:

Unsalted pistachios (ground) – as much as you would like
Walnuts (ground) – as much as you would like
1 cup sugar
3 tsp cinnamon
1 package of phyllo pastry
18 tbsp of unsalted butter
juice of 1 lemon
1 cup of honey
1. Preheat oven to 350 F
2. Mix together the pistachios, walnuts, cinnamon and 1/4 cup of the sugar
3. Melt the butter – brush the baking sheet with butter and lay down 1/3 of the phyllo sheets. To do this, alternate between 1 sheet of phyllo, and 1 layer of brushed butter until you have completed 1/3 of the sheets.
4. Scatter 1/2 of the nut mixture over top of the phyllo.
5. Lay down another third of the phyllo sheets as before and cover with the remaining half of the nut mixture.
6. Lay down the final third of the phyllo sheets as before.
7. Cut diagonals into the baklava, making your cuts half deep.
8. Bake on the low shelf for 1 1/4 hours – 1 1/2 hours
9.  Now prepare the honey:  Heat the remaining sugar with 1 cup of water, stirring occasionally. Pour in the honey and stir to mix. Allow the mixture to boil for 25 minutes (take care that it does not boil over). Test the heat of the mixture using a sugar thermometer (you want it to reach 239 F)
10. Remove the heat and let it reach a lukewarm temperature.
11. When the baklava is finished, remove from the oven and immediately pour the syrup over the entire pan.
12. Cut through the marked lines almost to the bottom to allow the syrup to seep through.

Enjoy!

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Community


Shortly after my mom passed away, I came across this blog post that someone I knew had written about my mom – and about my broader community in Toronto.  Since that time, I have been wanting to share it with you.  I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of community in the past few years.  I haven’t looked into it, but I bet there are a million studies out there discussing the popular idea and oft quoted proverb that it takes “a village to raise a child”.  I know it is true because I am a product of it.  As I’ve mentioned before, I always find it so difficult to decide what city to live in. Each one I’ve lived has its own unique features that I love.  I must say though that one thing that constantly draws me back to where I grew up, is the wonderful extended family that has developed around me over the years.  I was reminded of this the week my mom passed away when my family and I were so blessed to have been surrounded by so much love.  Anyhow, please enjoy your read, written by a lovely woman who a few months before me lost her wonderful mom as well.

mothers

I am sure some of you will be able to relate to the kind of extended family i am about to describe. My parents immigrated from Egypt in the late 60s with a handful of other Coptic Egyptians. It was not long after that they along with a priest from Egypt formed the first Coptic Orthodox Church in North America…meeting in a small chapel on the second floor of a church that is still nestled behind the Eaton Center in downtown Toronto. Slowly more friends and families immigrated and congregated…and so, by the time I was born in the late 70s I was born into a community that was tightly knit by its roots of the home they left, the experience of immigration to North America and by their deep faith.

I was born into an extended family that knew me from the moment i came to be until this moment today. Going to church every Sunday throughout my upbringing i would see the same familiar faces, bond with the same friends i had since before i was consciousness of my own being and sense the many people loving me and watching over me and caring for me. Although i have been absent from Toronto throughout much of my 20s and into my 30s these connections were always there and this family would always care for me in my absence. They knew when i was overseas teaching in Southeast Asia, they knew when i was working in Yemen, they knew when I was living out East and through conversation with my parents were always thinking of and loving me.
The gift of this community and family is that it meant there were so many mother mothering each child. So many caring, smart, intuitive, passionate, warm mothers looking out for this flock of Egyptian youth making their way through an upbringing quite different than their own. We were all so lucky to have these moms lovings us in all directions…innately enveloping us.

And so, another such mother, just like my mom, passed away this weekend. It is not that i spoke with her very often but i knew she loved me and cared for me and always asked about me. She visited us in the hospital frequently when mom was sick. And she too has daughters who adore her because there is nothing not to adore. And she too has a congregation of children who grew up with her love wrapped round them.

It is the nature of life. It is inevitable. Our mothers are being taken. And it is juxtaposed by new mothers being given. Many of my Egyptian friends have children but it is only in the past couple of years and particularly this last year and in the coming months that so many of my dear friends from all different nooks of my life have become or are to become mothers. It is such an amazing time to see these sisters of mine become transformed…to see them born as moms.

And so, as always it is strange to feel as though i am watching something unfold beyond myself, beyond any of us. To see this great shift in life take form, where it feels as though changes are being made in order for new spaces to be created, where one things is making room for another without particular question or reason or qualifying manner as good or bad but rather simply being.

And so, much gratitude to mothers for all they have done and all they will do. To the moms that have mothered for so long and to those that are in their first moments. What a precious gift to be a mom and to be mothered be it by one or many.

8 minutes


I recently checked out the movie “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”.  Have you seen it?  It is about a little boy who loses his dad on 9/11 and his journey through the grief that follows.  Near the beginning of the movie, he made what I thought to be an excellent analogy.  He said that if the sun were to explode, it would take us 8 minutes to notice because that is how long it would take for the light and heat to go away (based on the speed at which light travels).  The boy in the movie says that after his dad passed away, he still felt as though he was in that 8 minute period in which he still felt his dad’s light and heat so to speak.  He finds a key that belonged to his dad and spends most of the movie searching for the lock for the key.  He says that he feels that finding this lock would help him to extend his eight minutes with his dad.

This analogy really helps put into words a lot of what I have been feeling since my mom’s passing.  A few weeks ago I wrote about how I still feel her presence in our home through all the little touches that she left behind.  Now that I think about it, I realise that this is me in my 8 minutes.  Like the little boy in the movie, I fear what comes after 8 minutes and I find myself trying to elongate it as much as I can.  There are a few things in my mother’s belongings that I have wanted to go through and look at, but have decided instead to “save” them for later, because I feel as though that will draw out my 8 minutes with her a little longer.

Without spoiling the movie for you, the boy does end off by saying that he never thought that he would be able to live without his father, and that making it to the end of the 8 minutes taught him that he could and would survive.  Though I don’t think I have quite reached the end of my 8 minutes, this experience has indeed been life changing for me.  There are people who say that life can be described as “life before losing a parent” and “life after losing a parent”.  I think that is such an accurate description.  Life will never be the same, but life will continue.  This I now know.

Valuable Lessons Learned


Before my mom passed away, I had the honour of spending a diffucult yet wonderful and memorable ten days with her.  I am still processing everything I thought, saw, and experienced during that time.  One of those events is a visit paid to my family by a very lovely and kind palliative care doctor.  Up to this point, I have been fortunate enough not to have had very much interaction with the health care system.  However, during the time I spent at home with my mom, I got a small glimpse into her relationship with the health care system, both good and bad.  I think that this particular visit was probably one of the best experiences she has had with the system.  This doctor provided her not only with medical care and attention, but with the emotional support that one needs as they prepare to end their life on this earth.  The doctor gave my mom some advice that I know I will remember for a long time to come.  Here’s what he said:

1. You are not a burden until they say you are.

For whatever reason, my mom felt like she was a burden on us while she was sick.  No matter how much we told her that we wanted to take care of her, she just kept repeating it.  She even mentioned it to the doctor when he came to see her.  I loved what he said in response.  It was so powerful for an external party to tell her that she was not the one who could decide whether she was a burden on us: we were.

2. You cannot deny them the righ to take care of you.

To follow up with the above piece of advice, the doctor also asked my mom if we were a burden on her while we were growing up, or when we got would get sick.  She answered “Never! It was a joy to take care of them!”.  He then very wisely said “well then, in the same way that you had that right to take care of them, you cannot take away their right to take care of you”.  I had never thought of caring for someone as a right, but I really liked the way he put it.  It was a privilege to take care of her. One that I will always remember.  I’m glad that was not taken away from me.

3.  Even though the definition of your quality of life will change, you can still have quality of life.

This one was particularly special.  It’s true.  When one is sick, everything changes.  Answers to questions like “how are you?” or “how is your mom doing” start to become very relative.  The answer “good” has a very different meaning than it does coming from someone else.  In the same way, how one defines good quality of life must also change.  The doctor said that even if one could only lie down with their eyes closed on a bed, they could still have quality of life simply by having a close relative by their side.

4.  You are not the only one suffering. This cancer belongs to this entire family, and everyone is suffering; albeit very differenly than you are.

This was another good one.  People do not realize that in the same way couple’s say “we’re pregnant”, families can be thought of saying “we have cancer”.  Though the family physically does not have the illness just as the husband does not physically experience pregnancy, the other members of the family are still very much affected, and the doctor was right to point out that we were all suffering.  During my mom’s illness, I sometimes felt guilty for being sad and making it about myself, when it was clearly about my mom.  It was comforting and reassuring for someone to say that it was actually about all of us.

It was amazing how often these insights stayed with me during the days that followed.  They motived me to care for my mom as best as I could, as well as to make her quality of life the best that it could have been.  I’m grateful to this doctor who came into our lives at such a critical juncture.

Her Children Rise up and Call her Blessed


One day, during the week before my mom passed away, we were all sitting at the table having dinner.  At the end of the meal, a whole bunch of us got up to put dinner away.  My mom was too weak and tired to help but she expressed that we were all doing so much and that she felt badly that she could not get up and join us.  My brother responded with what I thought was the perfect answer.  He said: “Mom, this just goes to show how many of us it takes to do what you have been doing alone your whole life”.  So true. In the days leading up to my mom’s departure to heaven, it took so many of us to try to keep the house running semi-normally.  As the days continued to pass, I could not help but think of my brother’s comment.  It was so true and so fitting for the situation.  Now that mom has passed away, I find myself thinking about this even more.  I think about how despite her physical absence, we still benefit so much from all the work she has done for our home.  It goes beyond saying that we have  benefitted enormously from her raising us, but the little things have begun to stick out to me more in the last couple of days.  I look at how she has lovingly decorated the house with pretty paintings and framed family pictures, how she has organized the medicine cabinet and how her kitchen is fully stocked with all the kitchen tools a family could ever need.  It never occurred to me that even after her passing, we would continue to benefit from the household that she had put together and kept up for us.

Noticing these little details reminded me of a Proverb from the Bible that my mom loved to read. It’s the passage she read to me at my bridal shower.  It is also the passage that my grandfather would often read to my grandmother every so often.  The entire chapter is about the “virtuous woman”.  It was so sweet when my grandfather would read it and then lovingly gaze at my grandmother and say to her “that’s you”.  What a blessing it was to witness such love (you’ll understand what I mean after you read the passage below). Whenever I would come across this chapter I would always think about my grandparents, but this week as I looked around our family home I could not help but think of how fitting this chapter is for the legacy that mom has left behind:

An excellent wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.
She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands.
She is like the ships of the merchant;
she brings her food from afar.
She rises while it is yet night
and provides food for her household
and portions for her maidens.
She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
She dresses herself with strength
and makes her arms strong.
She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.
She opens her hand to the poor
and reaches out her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid of snow for her household,
for all her household are clothed in scarlet.
She makes bed coverings for herself;
her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Her husband is known in the gates
when he sits among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them;
she delivers sashes to the merchant.
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gates.

(Proverbs 31:10-31 ESV)

Five Senses Friday


It’s been a long time coming.  I’ve been wanting to write about my mother’s illness, but felt that I could not for a number of reasons, one of which was that my mother loved to read my blog.  Though I am sure she would have appreciated reading my thoughts on this topic, I did not want to burden her with my fears and concerns about her.  She was also quite private about her illness and so I did not feel that it was appropriate.  Now that she has passed and that certain things have become public, I feel as though the time has come for me to share this story.  I do not feel like I can do it all in one post, so you will be getting little snip-its over the next little while.

Today’s post is about the outpouring of support that we have received over the past little while.  I’ve decided to tell you about it through something that I’ve seen others do called “Five Senses Friday” (FSF).  Basically, FSF is  a way to reflect on the past few days by thinking about what you have experienced through each of your senses.  When I sat down to think about it, I realised that the flood of love and support has actually been expressed through all five!

Seeing:

Everyone I know.  In the past couple of weeks (almost two weeks) since mom passed away, I think I must’ve seen almost everyone I know who lives in this city, and then some from outside.  Funerals and visitations are interesting because you never know who is going to walk through the door.  Its sort of like your wedding, but it’s not just the special people from your life, it’s the special people from your life, and all those who are special to every single member of your family.  We feel so blessed to be surrounded by so much love.

Tasting:

A fridge full of food made for us by others.  I’ve loved tasting the food that people brought us.  It is my first time being on this side of things and I find it so interesting to see what has come into our fridge.  Given that we are an Egyptian family, we have naturally received a lot of Egyptian dishes from family and friends.  It is so neat for me to see little twists on dishes that I grew up eating.  Everybody makes the same dish just a little differently.  I could taste love in every bite and yet it was also sort of sad because some of those dishes are nostalgic for me and it was strange to think that I would never eat my mom’s “—” again.  Just one of the many things I am processing right now.

Hearing:

If I have seen everyone we know who lives in this city, then I have definitely heard  from everyone we know in the world.  Literally.  My family and I have started many conversations in the past week with “you’ll never believe who called me today”.  The answer would often be someone who we hadn’t spoken to in over 15 years (especially in my dad’s case).

Smelling:

So many different and beautiful flowers have filled our home.  As you might know, I have a horrible sense of smell and can actually rarely smell anything. But this week  the flowers overpowered and I got to smell some of the support.

Feeling:

Hugs, hugs, and more hugs!

Thank you so much for all your love – we feel it in so many ways!

Picture of the Week – A Life Well Lived


This week’s picture is particularly near and dear to my heart…

ImageSix days ago the world lost a very precious soul…my mother’s.  In the coming days and weeks I’ll be posting a few thoughts on this topic as well as some of my mom’s favorite recipes.  My hope is that this will allow me to reflect on my mother’s life, while also allowing you to share in her memory. xx

“Picture[s] of the [last few] week[s]” and B&B book club


I haven’t been terribly good at keeping up with my “picture of the week”, so I thought that for this week I would share a whole bunch of pictures with you to make up for it. Here are a few shots of the last few weeks…visiting Peggy’s Cove before it got too cold, baked oatmeal dish, my birthday salad made by my wonderful husband, baking cookies with mom and dad over Christmas in Toronto as well as a couple of others.

Also, since it is January and lots of us are making new year’s resolutions (many of which may have to do with finances), I thought I would tell you about a book I recently read that you might like.  Its called the “Smart Cookies Guide to Making More Dough and Getting out of Debt”.  The idea of the book is premised around these five women called the “Smart Cookies” who got together and formed a “money group” to help keep themselves accountable financially.  The authors suggest that you form your own money group and read the book as you would in a book club.  It discusses all sorts of different money related topics and is written especially for women.  I personally read it on my own and learned a lot and found it really helpful. I imagine you would get even more out of it if you formed a group, but I definitely wouldn’t forego reading it just because you don’t have one.  One more tip: they have a Canadian and an American version of the book, so if you are going to order it, make sure you get the right version.

The best brunch dish ever


So, I am not one to use superlatives very often.  In fact, they’ve always kind of scared me.  When I was in grade school and my teachers used to ask us to pull out our “best” handwriting, I would always get a bit anxious and worried that I would have used up my limited supply of “best hand writing” by the age of 9.  I would get a similar feeling when people would ask me what my “favorite” song, or “favorite” colour was.  I always felt that if I gave a song name or a colour out, than that song or colour would have to be my favorite for the rest of my life.  At 29, I still sometimes experience anxiety over these sorts of things.

Having admitted this publicly on my blog, I must also say that once in a while (but very rarely), I can use a superlative sans anxiety.   For example, there is this red curry chicken soup at this Thai restaurant in Ottawa which my friend and I have qualified as “the best soup in the world”.  A few years later, I still sleep well and have no regrets about having used this title.  So today friends, let me introduce you to “the best brunch dish ever”.  I hope you will find it as delicious as I have.  This dish is great for serving to guests, and is also extra awesome because you can prepare it the night before.

Here is the recipe:

Overnight Proscuitto & Feta Egg Bake

*Note: The original recipe calls for goat cheese, but I have substituted feta cheese instead.

Ingredients:

-14 to 18 slices English muffin bread

-6 oz. prosciutto, thinly sliced and torn into bite size pieces

-8 oz. crumbled feta cheese (or goat cheese if you prefer)

-8 oz. shredded provolone cheese

-1/4 c. chopped green onions

-6 T. thinly sliced fresh basil

-5 large eggs

-2 c. whole milk

-1 T. Dijon mustard (optional)

-1/2 tsp. salt (you may want to use less, depending on the saltiness of your prosciutto/ham and goat cheese)

-1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

3 T. unsalted butter, melted

Preparation:

Spray a 9″ x 13″ baking dish with cooking spray. Then line the bottom of the dish with 1 layer of bread, cutting some of the slices to fit if necessary. Arrange half the prosciutto evenly over the bread, and then half the goat cheese and half the provolone. Sprinkle with half of the green onions and basil. Top with a second layer of bread slices. Layer on the remaining prosciutto, goat cheese, provolone, green onions, and basil.

Whisk eggs, milk, mustard, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl. Pour egg mixture evenly over the egg bake, letting it soak in. Drizzle melted butter evenly over the top. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next morning, preheat oven to 350°. Uncover the egg bake and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Bake until the center is set, about 55 to 60 minutes. If you want to crisp up the top even more, set it under the broiler for a minute or two, until golden. Cut into large squares and serve.

Yield: 6 to 12 servings

Source: adapted from the recipe box of Meghan Cornell, adapted from Bon Appetit ”Entertaining Made Easy”, December 2003, also seen at http://www.afarmgirlsdabbles.com/)

Taking my ‘Single-Self’ off the Shelf


I just got back from a fabulous business trip to Ottawa which I extended to go hang out and visit some friends in Montreal.  I had a wonderful time but also feel very happy to be back to my Halifax routine.

Although I was only gone for a week, I feel as though I’ve just come back from three or may even four trips.

Chapter 1 of my trip was spent in Ottawa attending business meetings and also attending a great conference.  I learned so much in just 3 days and met so many great people.  I even met a few people from Halifax. Yay – new friends!  While in Ottawa, my parents came to see me from Toronto, so I was able to spend my evenings catching up and spending some quality time with them.

Chapter 2 was spent with my good friend MC.  As former roommates, I always find it neat how when we visit each other, we like to slip into our old roommate habits.  We planned to spend our Sunday afternoon the same way we did when we lived together: lounging around in our pj’s with our laptops and the TV on, playing music and chatting periodically.  When we visit each other we also have a traditional meal that we like to cook for old times sake. I will save that recipe for another post, but I can tell you this: it is one GOOD pasta dish!

Chapter 3 of my trip was spent visiting my friend Kristin who I met last year, but who I feel like I have known for so much longer.  Kristin and I  had the good fortune of working with a group of wonderful women (there were about 5 guys in our group of 30 clerks), whom I feel so blessed to have gotten to know.  Anyhow, visiting Kristin and her roommate Kia was a lot of fun.  I spent my days working in coffee shops around Montreal (Kristin made a very detailed walking tour of the city’s coffee shops for me, which I absolutely LOVED).  In the evenings, we would visit with friends or just hang out in their charming Plateau apartment.  Before going to bed, we chatted over a scoop of Kristin’s delicious coffee ice cream with a cup of tea on the side.  That is a bedtime routine I could definitely get used to!  A highlight of this chapter was visiting the new Bota Bota, which is a posh Scandinavian spa built into an old boat! If you are planning on making a trip to Montreal anytime soon, you MUST save som time for this activity!

Chapter 4 was my trip back to Ottawa where I spent the day catching up with my in-laws before taking a flight back to Halifax.

Overall, it was a perfect trip! Thanks to all of my wonderful and gracious hostesses!

Thought it was only a week, this is the longest trip I’ve taken alone since getting married.  Coming from a very traditional background, I have to be honest, I was a bit unsure as to whether it was ok for me to leave my husband and go gallivanting by myself.  Since J is toiling his way though exam season right now, he really encouraged me to go.  We agreed that this time would be good for both of us.

Funnily enough, the day after I got to Montreal, MC and I watched a season 4 Sex and the City Episode where Carrie ponders the question “to be in a couple, do you have to put your single self on a shelf?”.  In that episode, Carrie is engaged to Aidan and finds herself missing her single life.  A few episodes later, they are broken up.  Though my situation is different, I can definitely relate to Carrie’s question.  In fact, I pondered it a lot myself while travelling last week.

I think everyone’s answer to this question is probably slightly different depending on who they are, who they are with, and what exactly it is about their single life that they miss.  For me though, I think the answer is definitely no.  I’ve learned (in my ever so long 1.5 years of marriage), that having time to “my single self” can make me into a better partner.  Taking trips like the one I just took, allow me to re-connect with myself and with my friends, which I think is very healthy for me.  Before I got married, I got to do my share of travelling and one of the things I loved most was exploring a new city on my own.  I also love hanging out with my girlfriends and having sleepovers.  When you get married, of course you get to do a lot of amazing things with your partner, and one of the best things about it is that you no longer HAVE to do stuff alone! Despite this, I think it is always important to make time, when you can (obviously don’t abandon your partner and kids!), to check-up on how your ‘single self’ is doing.

What do you think?