Putting the Whimsical Back into Birthdays

“Where would you like to order for your birthday?” I asked my loving husband a week before he was to turn forty-five.

“As in takeout,” he sighed.

The two of us had plans for one of his favourite, but not quite so elegant, dinners. We had created a shopping list of ingredients and “must haves” for a DIY Nacho Bar on our kitchen breakfast bar, down to the chopped green onions and avocados for homemade guac. But that was only one meal and I was looking for help in rounding out the eats for my other half’s special day.

“Can we just leave it open? See what the day brings?” He asked. Without actually saying it, I knew what my husband really wanted for his birthday.

He wasn’t looking for something special to eat or the ability to travel. He wasn’t looking for a present or card. He was looking for the impulse . . . the whim. He was looking to be able to inject a bit of unprepared, unplanned and unorganized frivolity into his birthday.

No. It was a bit bigger than that. He was looking to do it for the first time since his last birthday.

I don’t blame him.

I create weekly meal plans and submit our lists online for pick-up at the local IGA. I order our Friday Night Beers online and pick-up at the liquor store. Date night is a movie from CRAVE or one we have recorded off the cable Hollywood Suites. Everything is prepared, planned and organized.

In short, there are no surprises. No whims. No impulse trips. No packing up the car and hitting the open road. No unexpected.

“Sounds like a plan,” I responded to his request. Well, a plan that isn’t a plan.

While the ingredients for the nacho bar have been submitted for pick-up and I already ordered his favourite IPA, I am leaving our lunch meal empty. Open. For whatever the day brings. Surprise us.

Surprisingly, just doing that, has given us both something to look forward too. The anticipation of the whimsical has put the whimsical back into the birthday. For both of us.

We all need whims. Something for both of us to remember long after he blows out the candle on his specially ordered, planned and prepared (but still utterly fantastic) birthday cake.

Bowls Bowl Me Over

Some people are addicted to chocolate or fascinated by the various items one can make with a muffin tin. For me, I’m bowled over by bowls.

I love bowls.

There I said. Whew.

Bowls are like a deconstructed sammy or wrap. All the goodies, toppings and sauces that would normally be found between slices of artisan bread or wrapped up into a spinach tortilla are artistically laid out in a large bowl.

And they are freakishly easy to make!

Bowls typically consists of a grain (quinoa, pasta, couscous), protein (tofu, chickpeas, chicken, etc.), a wide range of veggies (cucumbers, carrots, beets, avocado) and toppings (pumpkin seeds, siracha, ranch) and voila!

The other thing that is really cool is that bowls are a yummy, colourful way to clean out the fridge.

Here are a few of my favourites:

Spicy Chard Udon Bowl
Thai Lettuce Wraps with Spicy Tofu & Broccoli
Swarma Cauliflower and Hummus Bowl
Chickpea Salad Bowl with Roasted Beets

Bon appetite.

Decorating 2020

How will you remember 2020?

This year, my husband and I are making plans for a holiday season on the home front. With most of our family in the States, we will be spending a rare year with just the two of us and our furry cat in Canada.

The two of us are working on a holiday menu that highlights favourite traditions from both of our families. We are creating playlists on Spotify for upbeat background music during our “couple cocktail hours.” Merry. Bright. Simple.

We went out and got a tree – a simple pleasure that we often skipped due to our travels during this time of the year. Between US Thanksgiving and Christmas of a normal year, our house was mostly vacant and the cat doesn’t appreciate having a piece of outdoors indoors. Or at least not in a way that his humans appreciate.

Our tree stands in the window to our lane way, a beacon of light and sparse decorations. The two of us have contributed hand me down trinkets from our parents’ trees or old school made ornaments. We have ornaments from the year we were born or highlighting our past hobbies.

Mike, as it was later told to me, looked at the tree and wondered what trinkets or ornaments would mark 2020 – the year everything was put on paused, changed and rerouted.

Truth of it is, we will all have a different memory of this year. For some, it was a year of betterment. For others, it was going into work during a time of fear, anxiety and uncertainty. For some, it was isolation from family members, friends and those who kept us rooted in our community. For others, it was a time to try making sourdough or learning French.

Mike had considered purchasing a mask ornament. Or a mini rolling pin on a string. Sure it was part of it, but it didn’t really reflect the bigger picture.

For us, it was a year of simple. We reduced our shopping to the essentials. We had one weekend trip away from home, and not the trip to Europe we had anticipated. It felt like we were learning to do more with less, including making masks out of the leftover table runner fabric from our wedding (seven years ago). What used to be a date night out is takeout and a movie in.

It meant changes. It meant reducing our connection with family and community (in person). It meant making big deals about holidays and celebrations. It meant getting creative to maintain our mental health and fitness.

Mike decided that our tree needed something that reflected the holidays and our year. Merry. Bright. Simple.

He purchased vintage-style indent and reflector ornaments plus a string of tinsel broken up with the same style of glass ornament. It contained the same vintage look of our other ornaments, but was purchased to add the “merry, bright and simple” exclamation point to our 2020 year.

The year we had to buy ornaments for our first tree in Canada.

2020 was hard. It was lonely. It was heartbreaking. But it also had hope. Love. A sense of community. And a few lessons on how I could be a better person.

Merry. Bright. Simple.

NFL: Together When Apart

COVID-19 has presented us with an incredible challenge – how to stay connected while apart. It’s a challenge my family and I conquered long ago.

The one thing that unites us from afar – NFL.

The National Football League has a way of pulling my family together, despite the distance or rivalries – and this has happened for DECADES.

Each member on my daddy’s side has a different team they love to root for on Thursday night, Sunday or Monday. Here’s the team breakdown:

·         My grandmother and Uncle in North Carolina follow the Carolina Panthers & Denver Broncos

·         My mom in Salem, Oregon adores the Denver Broncos, Philly Eagles

·         My husband and I on the Sunshine Coast, BC, Canada are into the Seattle Seahawks (and I am partial to Derek Carr and the Las Vegas Raiders)

So, you can see where the division happens when one of our fav teams is paired with the team of another member (particularly Panthers and Seattle or Broncos and Raiders).  In fact, the Bronco fans in the family have not forgiven me for Seattle’s win in Super Bowl XLVIII.

When COVID-19 lockdown started in March, there was a moment of panic for my family. Would the NFL play this year? The televised sport helps us connect at least one day (if not three) a week to trash talk, check in and rally. It is the common ground between us – even though we are separated by time zones and an international border.

I am thrilled that the NFL is back on. Yes, its weird not seeing the crazy shenanigans of the fans (especially the Black Hole of the Raiders or the Hawks Nest of Seattle). Yes, its weird to have previous games cheers piped in to fill the audio gap. Its weird to watch the elbow bumps at the end of the game between the masked sides.

However, this socially distanced version of America’s favourite pastime is what brings my family together.

And I’m glad it is back.

Making My Own Birthday Cake

This morning, I baked my own birthday cake. 

There would have been a time when I may have thought of one making their own cake as . . . Sad. Perhaps the pre-COVID me. Perhaps the younger version of me. Today, I found it empowering. 

There’s something special about baking a cake for a loved one to show how much they mean to you or how much you appreciate them. A homemade token to say, “well done” or “awesome.”

How often do we just bake for ourselves to celebrate ourselves? Perhaps learning to appreciate the smaller gestures, and ourselves, is  one of those hidden benefits of COVID.  The toned down celebration, the focusing on what matters.

This morning, I made an orange walnut cake with an orange spice glaze. I believe it might have been something that Hyacinth “Bucket” would have served at one of her tea functions in “Keeping Up Appearances.”

But this wasn’t made for appearances or the Jones’ next door. It was a simple cake created for someone I love and appreciate. Myself.

All I can say is that I look forward to slicing into this bit of created heaven.