Komin Skillet Pan Follow-up

It’s been several months since I bought my Komin pan and with some attention, it’s seasoning up nicely.  It’s not finished and I have to remind my family to wipe the food out immediately after it cools, NOT use soap or NOT to have leave it in the sink with water and to follow cleaning with a oil rub.  It is iron and it will rust.

I’m not saying clean a seasoned cast iron pan is now a snap.  Any cleaning at all is work, but with a well-maintained pan and my corn scrubber provides a pan that makes yummy food, not a pan that saves me five minutes of domestic labour.

This Komin skillet is wonderfully light which is perfect because my arms are like chicken wings, but it’s only 10″.  Because I don’t want to overcrowd the meat, which would steam rather than sear, I use it for no more than two tenderloins.  I get the pan hot before I add the oil, and make sure the oil is hot, but not smoking.  The non-sticking trick I learned is temperature and browning.  If you pull the meat off before it’s fully browned, it sticks.

The skillet is perfect for a Bourguignonese kind of dish.  After the meat is cooked, remove it to a plate and caramalize veggies like chopped onion, carrots and mushrooms with wine, herbs, stock, thickener to make a sauce.  The liquid, with all the scraped up brown bits, is the goal for a yummy sauce.

I also made an amazing bacon, kale, quinoa dish that I learned from Hot Pink Apron to serve with a steak and egg dish.  Her husband’s favorite.

My only sadness is that that pan doesn’t come in a 12″ 😦

A Tea Party with Grammie

When my granddaughter was born, I rubbed my hands with glee for all the make-believe fun we would have with the display props I bought for my costume store Fee Fi Fo Fun.  Things like a pink enameled metal tea set from Pottery Barn and a toadstool chair.

TeaPartyLast weekend my granddaughter and I had our first tea party.  As a former special events planner, I had to rein myself in from buying sugar cubes with frosting, petite fours and a lace tablecloth.  I mean, she’s three.

I did put sugar, milk and tea in the containers, but only 1/3rd full to help her have the experience of pouring herself.  She didn’t like the tea, so I substituted cranberry juice.

I also put out my own teapot and china cup.  Lunch and play in one as we served sandwiches with the crusts cut off and mini cupcakes.

It was divine.

My Gluten Free Breakfast[s]

You know I love food which is exactly why I am bothering to talk about something people mundanely describe as breakfast.  I’m not talking about those sumptuous Bacon and Eggs at The Pump House, or the buffets at Sandals in Mexico, but the Monday to Friday breakfasts that must power your daily writing, or box filling, or teaching, or whatever it is you do.

When you have coeliac [celiac in the US] or gluten-free and can’t reach for wheat product, it’s a foodie’s challenge.  You know there is no substitute for the texture in baking of wheat.   I’m very lucky to have found Voila Bakery in Oakville, Ontario.  It’s a bit of a drive, but their gluten-free Pumpernickel and Museli breads are incredible.  Their Nananimo Bars [it’s a Canadian sweet] I can’t keep out of my husband’s mouth and he hates gluten free.  All other gluten baked breads, commercial or independent, pale in comparison to Voila ~ hint hint please keep them in business. 

Even I get bored of toast and peanut butter.  I wanted to put oatmeal back into my diet, but I’d heard it could not be tolerated by coeliacs.  Oatmeal has been a long favourite with me, perhaps because of my Scottish Irish ancestry.  In Samuel Johnson’s dictionary, oats were defined as “a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.” Apparently the Scotsman’s retort to this is, “That’s why England has such good horses, and Scotland has such fine men!”


This photograph is for ‘it looks prettier’ purposes only lol I usually have coffee, not tea, with breakfast. The red rooibos tea is for my afternoon slump.

The challenge with oatmeal falls between the words gluten intolerant and coeliac disease in that some oatmeal is freer of contaminated by-products and some people can tolerate a little contamination.  Regardless of your tolerance level, read between the lines of all packaging.  For example, I get my favourite brand of instant natural oatmeal from Organic Planet in Port Credit, Ontario.  It’s made by Glutenfreeda Foods and while the package says only “wheat free”, in fact, the oats are certified gluten free.  Yahtzee!

I wanted to try another cereal and it appears that chia is everywhere.  Has chia been downgraded from the hallowed halls of Chia Pets and the Clapper?  I’m not sure how this happened, but I picked up a bag of Ruth’s Chia Goodness in apple almond cinnamon.  I know it sounds weird, but I always cruise HomeSense in Clarkson Village, Ontario for general trends in colour and furniture style.  Likewise, their food section always has the up and coming boxed food goods.  It was the first place I saw gluten free anything outside a health food store.

The reverse of the oatmeal, Ruth’s package says “sans gluten”, but the fine print allergy alert says “packaged in a facility that also handles … wheat.”  I didn’t had a problem at all with it, but judge accordingly.

It did not bode well for me that Ruth’s instructions were 2 tablespoons of cereal to 4 tablespoons of water or milk.  I fill my bird feeder with more than that.  Dutifully I followed the instructions, but found the product unpalatable from by the look and taste.  How can something so good for me look like a combination of caviar and tapioca?  Undaunted, I sprinkled the Ruth’s raw cereal atop my oatmeal with blueberries, Maddington’s Maple Syrup and almond milk and …

Triple Yahtzee!  Perfect for me.  All Ruth’s Chia Goodness and now it looks and tastes great.

Yes, sometimes “healthy commerically manufactured products” taste like dirt, but don’t give up.  Exercise imagination and patience and you will be rewarded.  You’ll have more energy, feel better and live longer.

How to Play with a Three Year Old

If it wasn’t already obvious by the fact that I own a dress-up business, FeeFiFoFun Costumes, I have to gush that I love kids and I love free play.  I find myself, and my 54 year old knees, having trouble standing after a 40 minute marathon kneeling in the snow to build a snowman.

In spite of my childishness, I was shocked at how little I remembered the ages and stages that children go through.  I am delighted to report that my mommy spidey-sense did return, you know when it’s too quiet, and the eyes in the back of my head did grow back.

Grandparenting is not like raising your own kids where you have little or no choice but to engage 100%.  As a new grandparent, however, you have choices.  So the first thing to ask yourself is:  Do you like being around kids?  If you don’t like kids or play, don’t offer to babysit unless the kids are already asleep.  Don’t let your kids bully or blackmail you into babysitting because it will backfire.  Explain calmly that you don’t want them to come home to find the kids tied up, medicated and watching Breaking Bad with you.   It’s their choice.

I’ve been pretty clear with my daughter, much to her chagrin, that I am not interested in providing regular care for her kids.  I am interested in being with them and maintaining the lifestyle to which I have now become accustomed.

If you do like to play, like I do, here are some ideas of what to do with a three to four year old.

Take them for a walk.  It’s no longer acceptable to have our children march about our estate while we have an aperitif like they did in the Sound of Music. Be prepared to get dirty and to go really really slow so as to look at every bug.  Don’t go too far because they might need to be carried back, or have wet boots from puddling jumping or wet pants from being to busy to ask about the potty.


I have this, and other products, from the House of Marbles. Old fashioned, time tested, quality games like this marble set.

Marbles, yes, old fashioned marbles is one of my three year old granddaughter’s favourite games. The one thing you’ll note is that a three year old loves repetition.  I get down on the wooden floor with legs as barriers and we roll them back and forth, marveling now and then at their colour or at our prowess.  “You can do it Gwammie,” she chirps.  I’m glad I’m doing yoga because playing marbles messes with my hip joints.

What’s in the Cupboard is an awesome game.  My granddaughter has free access to most of the house and found our Yahtzee game.  She likes shaking the dice in the cup or stacking them with the chips.  Resist the urge to actually teach her Yahtzee or name the number of dots on the dice, she’s only three.

Playdough is a fantastic tactile game that I set out on the dining room table beside my computer.  In between typing, I roll pieces into small balls or snakes to keep her focused on the dough, not my computer.  Unfortunately I made the mistake of taking a phone call from my Georgette of Georgie Porgies Cakes.  I got so excited discussing a cross promotion that when I surfaced, so was the dough, in little crumbs all over the surface of the floor  … and the dog was eating it.

Stickers, and recycled paper to put them on, are great.  Just don’t cheap out by going to a dollar store because those stickers are difficult for a three year old to peel off.  Other than redirecting her from putting them on the table to the paper, I don’t interfere.

Plastic figures of My Little Ponies, animals, firemen and Star Wars characters from Value Village can easily be sterilized and give tons of play around the house including the bathtub.  She’s warming up to Darth Vader since I took his helmet off.

Books, books, books.  I read four or five Robert Munsch books around her nap time and leave them with some plastic toys on the bed.  She either falls asleep on her own or has “quiet time”.   I mean quiet time for me to re-charge, not her ~ she’s going back to her parents house.

With respect to books, you don’t have to read every word or she will be reaching to turn the page before you are finished.  Embellish, use voices, point out little birdies on the page.  Soon peak in on her reading on her own.  So precious and so quiet.

After a couple of dates, I guarantee your mommy spidey-sense will also return as will the eyes in the back of your head.  If your house is childproofed, then you can leave her alone for free play and napping without fretting.

What play do like to do with your children or grandchildren?

The Photo Shoot

Closing my bricks and mortar store, but keeping the business of FeeFiFoFun Costumes, has opened lots of creative opportunities.  One was working with photographer Wales Wong and her team to create a photography editorial, this month featured in Dark Beauty magazine.

Wales talked about the idea she was dreaming, this kind of vamp, a deadly beauty.  She asked me to bring a selection of clothing and props to her photo shoot, but I had no idea what I was actually supposed to be doing.  I just knew that it was a creative endeavour and something I had never done before … a perfect combo of fear and elan.


Carlos Spellbound took this wonderful selfie with us in the background.

The day was rainy, but Wales made each shot lush.  Alayna Kellett, a model, instructor and choreographer, was amazingly creative and professional ~ even while naked and being stalked by Ontario sized mosquitoes.  Carlos and Vivienne teamed up on transformative hair and make-up, so that I did not recognize the model from one scene to the next.

That’s me in the I heart Zombies hoodie and Heidi braids.  A fifty something Grandmother leaning into the mud of a Toronto ravine and holding up the lighting while Wales make the shot.  It was hard, messy and grand!

Today, after yoga class, we talked about creation.  My peers were so in awe of the things I am doing.  I asked one gal, what had she created.  She froze and said “nothing”.  It came to the fore that she had spent 25 years journal writing, but afraid her family would read it she destroyed all of the books.  She hasn’t written since then.

I find it incredible, not that she destroyed the journals, but that she felt she had not created. The conversation ensued about child birth, parenting, grandparenting, business, art and not once did we talk about “work”.

Never ever let your age, income, gender, class, race stop you from finding the next chapter of your creative life.  Creation is not just about fine arts hanging in the National Gallery, a Giller prize for writing or a good run at the Shaw.  Creation is about expression in meaningful ways for your pleasure and by appreciating creation of your fellow humans.

The Calf, a family history story of Northern Ireland

Jeremiah’s hand rested on the gate.  Was it the morning dew or sweat he felt on his palms?  He couldn’t see much.  He paused, listening to the rustle of cattle.  It was getting close to the time they would be liberated into the day, but the still dark confused them as did his presence.

With quiet exaggeration, he closed the latch, pushing cattle aside.  Even in the dim light he knew the outline of his yearling and slipped the rope over the bull’s thick neck .  He trusted that his familiar scent would prompt the bull to cooperate.

Back through the crush Jeremiah felt the cows and other yearlings part for him.  It was a hopeful sign considering his hammering heart, but he wasn’t safe yet.

He tried not to think about the disappointment of his mother and sisters.   John, his older brother, would understand and smooth things over.   He was the one everyone listened to.   Especially their father when he was on the stony path not knowing whether to forgive or to strap the children.

John explained their father like it meant sense to him, but for Jeremiah it didn’t ever make sense.  It was either the strap or not the strap.  John said their father was an uneasy survivor.  Their parents living through two wars, through the promise and then the terror of workhouses and reforms.  So-called reforms between Catholics and Protestants where all paid the price for the aristocratic and political rhetoric.

After fifty long years their grandparents had finally found peace, prosperity and community, but only briefly.  In 1845, the potato famine wiped out their income and their food supply.  Most of the family starved to death and it was only luck and the kindness of strangers that had kept their father Thomas, and his younger brother, William, alive.

By 1850, Thomas had developed a keen knack for raising cattle and for keeping the peace.  The local landlord, when she bothered to show up, came to reply upon him to quell arguments as cattle pastured unfettered in Armagh county.  After a time,  Thomas’ one bull, ten cows and a small plot of pasture became a thriving farm.   Thomas wasn’t greedy and as his herd prospered, so too did Ballyworkan benefit as a community.

A soft light now came from their small white-washed cottage.   Their mother would be starting the fire to make his father’s tea.  Porridge with butter would come soon after for the four sisters, for John and for him.  It was Friday, so his father would also be expecting an egg.   Fire, he said, to fuel the long walk ahead of them to Poynt Pass and onto Markethill,

but Jeremiah wouldn’t be going tomorrow.  He put his head down and willed hims

elf not to run, as if that might stop him from being spotted.   It was one day short of July and he was glad.  Any earlier and the roads would have been deeply rutted and mucky making his journey slow.  He was sure that if his father caught him now he’d lose his resolve.

He thought only briefly about his sisters, except for Jane.   The girls who shared a room were silly and would be too busy cheeping and grooming to notice his absence.  Jane he would miss.   She wasn’t yet bouncing about like his other sisters of marriageable age, who were more worried about boys and ribbons.  In the past he could always count on her to share the chores so there would be time to fish in the Cusher, watching the lazy current and thinking big thoughts about nothing.

The sun was rising now, casting a pink orange glow and making the mist rise from the ground.  Jeremiah’s heart was no longer hammering, but a steady leap, like the excitement he felt about his future.

The previous years replayed.  Jeremiah remembered being grateful for the penny tossed by his father to spend on toys or candy, but that time was past.  Replaced by the elation at standing beside his father and John at the previous fall market.  Boys were expected to drive the herd for the eight hours to Poynt Pass, but once the cattle were corralled the men took care of the negotiations.   He had stood among them for the first time.  Then his father had given him a calf saying it was his responsibility.  Jeremiah raised it with care watching his father and brother, not quite able to see, but anticipating with pride, his future as a cattleman.

He was almost at his destination knowing that his absence from the family home would now be obvious.  His father would file away his anger till just the right moment.  Jeremiah hated the waiting game.

John, however, always managed to deflect punishment, or rather what their father called “corrections.”   John whose head was cool and smart,  ready to take over the family farm, while Jeremiah slaved into the future, landless.

“He has no right to take it to market.”, he said.  “I raised it.  It’s my seed bull.  My future.”   His thoughts, however gruffly appearing in his head, were shadowed by doubt and the echo of this father’s laughter.   “No son.  It was experience you needed, not the bull.  It goes to market tomorrow with the rest.”, and the conversation was over just like that.

The sun had risen quicker than he remembered as if time was urging him forward.  He blinked stupidly in the light, the bull bumping his back with a tipped horn reminding him it was both their breakfast times.  Jeremiah hadn’t noticed passing the other cottages that lined the road of Harcourt’s Hill.  Had the neighbour’s seen him pass, he wondered.

A small house stood on the right, but he knew it would be empty.  He rounded the back to the shed with the chickens pecking and pigs rooting contentedly.  The sheep and cows already at pasture.  Another hand on the gate that he looked down to see with some surprise that it was a man’s hand.  Calloused and red rough.  A hand with experience.  His hand.

His uncle William raised his own in welcome, his eyes only half masking the merriment Jeremiah knew he was getting from seeing his nephew at his door step.   Jeremiah did not know how his uncle, as a bachelor, managed to work the farm alone.  More importantly, how he had afforded his own land.  Even with all these questions and naivety, Jeremiah was reassured that it was possible.

Jeremiah Pentland in front of his cottage in Ballyworkan, Portadown, Armagh County, Northern Ireland

Jeremiah Pentland in front of his cottage in Ballyworkan, Portadown, Armagh County, Northern Ireland

John said that their father lost his own childhood protecting Will from the harshness and responsibilities he’d endured.  “That’s why Dad seems so mixed”, John said, “His enjoyment of life put on hold to make sure William thrived, but then,” and John winked, “… Will turned out to be a little too mirthful”. They had both smiled remembering the practical jokes and the mouth harp Uncle Will constantly played.  They liked how it drove their father crazy.

Will and Jeremiah did not need to talk.   Conversation about Thomas was long questioned without an answer, his stoicism as set as Will’s humour.  They set about the day’s chores, his stomach rumbling with hunger and anxiety.   Yet, the sun set and there was no knock on the door and Will said he could stay on as long as he worked.

Out of character the next day’s promise was of summer sun, instead of rain.  The mood was light as they, with a day’s rations and a bedroll, left for market ~ the bull calf safely away in Will’s shed.  The cattle, a much smaller herd than Thomas’, walked on ahead beside the river with only the occasional correction to stay on track.  Jeremiah’s courage rose and fell in waves getting sharper as they neared the market.

He’d never noticed before, well, maybe he had and not acknowledged it, but his father was holding court.  Men leaning in on his words and the not so private exchange of flasks.  The rest of his family was still at home.  His sister’s would have preferred the social opportunity of the July 1st market, but his mother would only visit in September when the supply of goods bordered on extravagant.   Jeremiah felt a moment of family pride and then his father’s body changed direction, all the while smiling and slapping backs.

He tried to busy himself, but found his Uncle propelling him towards the court of Thomas.  “This is what you’re here for.  Isn’t it?”, Will questioned.  While Jeremiah’s desire drove one side, inexperience drove the other so that his body looked twisted as the two sets of brothers  greeted each other.   It seemed that everyone turned to watch as if the news of his defection had preceded like brush fire.

Thomas looked from Will to Jeremiah and then behind them.  No calf.   Jeremiah was trembling with the effort to control he knew not what.  Was it rage or fear?  Maybe the two were indistinguishable.

He forced his eyes up and saw his father with a rare small smile playing about his lips.   “Well, Jeremiah Pentland, ” his father said, “That was brass-neck thing you pulled.  I’m sure your Uncle will appreciate the extra hand on his farm.”  Some might have looked for the sarcasm in that remark, but for Jeremiah it only meant no strap ever again.  That would have been enough for him, but the lesson learned came from his father turning back to say, “It’s a fine bull son.” and with that he nodded to Will and turned back to the other cattlemen.

Author’s Notes:   The original family story related to me was that Jeremiah took a calf and walked down the road to his Uncle’s farm.  The facts are that our great-grandfather inherited land from his bachelor uncle William, while John, his older brother, inherited land from their father, Thomas.  Jeremiah married Dinah Morrow, whom he called his Treasure.  Of the eight children they raised, two sons migrated to Canada in the 1930’s.  Jeremiah’s farm was eventually purchased with glee by Tommy Flavel whose family also raised cattle in Ballyworkan and who sat at Jeremiah’s knee while he played the Mouth Harp.  Tommy, in his late seventies, hosted my cousin Evelyn, my sister and I on a walk through our ancestral lands which included, yep, cattle.  Except for that which is bog, next to the Brackagh Moss Nature Reserve, all the pasture land is slowly being urbanized by the City of Portadown.

Thanks to my cousins Evelyn Harper and Ivan Pentland for relaying the story of Jeremiah for me to embellish and share.

In Disguise with LARP and Cosplay

As a young person I was in love with fantasy and science fiction literature and film.  As a young adult I couldn’t wait for people to throw costume parties so I could get into disguise.   At age 54, however, it’s impossible to carry off  the characters I used to enjoy at twenty, thirty and even forty.   Black eyeliner just doesn’t look the same over crow’s-feet, nor does a body suit have the same impact when gravity has taken effect.  Not to be deterred, I bought spanks for my Attack on Titan cosplay, but that’s another story.

Owning a costume business does legitimize my presence in civies while watching the eddies of costume groups gathering at Con-G, Anime North and FanExpo ~ without looking like a stalker.

I  couldn’t wait to bring it to Con-G this February when I was asked by Underworld LARP to design and run a couple of how-to make-up sessions.

LARP has pretty specific rules for it’s members.   Conspiring with Remi [a former co-op student and LARPer] and Underworld PR dude, Darcy, as well as visiting their website, helped guide the design of four characters complete with make-up, costuming and props.


Model, Cosplayer and LARPer Remi as a NPC Banshee. Make-up done by Angela. Design and Styling by Alison. Rubies White and Black Smudge Proof Make-up, Forum Novelties Haunted Cape, Ghostly Gal costume and Crystal Ball and Gothika Cataract Contacts all from FeeFiFoFun Costumes. LARPer and make-up artist Angela also provided the blood 😛

LARP is a game, like Monopoly, except instead of gathering money and property, you gather points for spells that will help avoid your character’s death.  Participants create a name, a back story and physically dress and act out their characters’ actions.  These players pursue goals in a fictional setting placed within our real world, like a farm or a community centre, all the while interacting with other characters.  The organization, in this case Underworld, has very rules for character attributes [Human, Orc, Feline, Elf and their ilk], also for clothing and for spells to make mischief and get you out of mischief.

Underworld is for 19+ and also very specific in the use of weapons ~ in that they are structurally designed not to cause harm [are foam] and are suitable for the character [i.e. no fake AK-47’s for Orcs].

Events are staged with specific themes, for example at Underworld High Winter the theme was Jack Frost.  Non-Player Characters [NPC] are also essential in LARPing.  They are usually players volunteering as the event’s boogeymen in exchange for points that they can then use in the future.  Like I said, it’s a game and Underworld keeps score.  Count on it.

NPC’s are sworn to secrecy about plot points and dressed to scare or beat the bushes for players.  Well, Underworld’s motto is Run. Fight.  Hide.  At any event, the Game Keepers mediate the player actions based on these rules and drive the play, including clarification for newbies and decision-making for squabblers, all in an event that fosters creativity, promotes team work and social engagement, gets your heart pumping, has humour and scares the bee-jez.   Perfect!

The costumes, props, wigs and make-up are from Fee Fi Fo Fun Costumes and the make-up, styling and sessions were suitably enhanced by LARP-Cosplayer-Artists Angela and Michelle.


Model Rebecca as Faun with Snazaroo Make-Up by Angela. Creature Design by Alison. All products from FeeFiFoFun Costumes. Beast Legs and Hoof Feet by Zagone Studio, Faun Ears by Aradani Studio, Halter by Dreamgirls, custom leather Quiver/Belt by Remi/Alison, Bow by SKS Novelty. Floral Ivy and Autumn Sprig from Dollarama.


Model Maddie as a Drow, Dark Elf all using FeeFiFoFun products. Rubies Smudgeproof white and black blend for full body paint, overlay of Tval Skincare Gaffer Gold Cream [go Newfoundland] and Manic Panic Glitter Blue make-up. Black Tomoyo wig from Purple Plum. Faux Fur from FabricLand with faux fur over Hip Hugger Clip. Chest Plate using Worbla and paint created by Alison. Clive Barker Cresent Moon staff by Disguise. Gold Metal Cuffs by ELOPE. All from FeeFiFoFun Costumes.


Model and Cosplayer Graeme does NPC Jack Frost or Winter Elf with make-up application by Angela and Michelle using Rubies Silver Face Paint and Ice Effect Kit. Wig by Purple Plum. Ice staffs my secret lol. Custom Assassin’s Creed white tunic and brown pants. All from FeeFiFoFun Costumes.

In Disguise at Purim

When a client, a Grandmother, complained that her daughter-in-law was too strict about costumes for Purim, the Anthropologist in me decided to pull the thread about this annual Jewish celebration.

This biblical story from the Book of Esther reads today like a classic fairy tale with a beautiful girl and her wise male cousin, an insipid king and an evil royal adviser.  The shared learning or Culture from this tale, however, is about a common theme of Jewish celebrations, survival.

School Children in Israel Dress for Purim

School Children in Israel Dress for Purim Photo Credit: JACK GUEZ/AFP

With exception, the megillah, or tale, goes something like this:  Beautiful orphan Esther lives the simple life with her cousin Mordecai in “Susa”, now one of the oldest cities in the world and located near what is modern day Shūsh, Iran.

King Ahasuerus wants to trade in his old wife and chooses Esther from all the girls in the land to be his new bride.  Esther’s cousin Mordecai advises her to keep hidden that she is Jewish, because there are evil people in the royal court that might wish to harm her.

While out and about in town, cousin Mordecai bumps into Haman, but refuses to bow to or acknowledge him as the Royal Adviser.  The evil Haman, already plotting to take over the Kingdom by having the butler and cook poison the King’s soup, goes crazy and decrees that on 13th day of the twelfth month ~ Adar, in the Hebrew calender, all Jews from India to Ethiopia will be put to death.

To prevent the death decree, cousin Mordecai now begs Queen Esther to reveal herself as a Jewess to the King.   It works, the King cannot refuse his beautiful Queen.   Instead he makes the cook and the butler drink the poisoned soup and hangs the evil Royal Adviser, Haman.

Purim is a great excuse to boo-hiss the bad guys, whirl noisemakers, produce skits, drink, dance, eat pastries called hamantaschen [Haman’s Hats] and to get into costume.

Almost all costume play has a structure to maintain its original intent, even if time, place or circumstance try to confiscate it.   For example, WWII.  In Binocular Vision, short stories by Edith Pearlman,’Purim Night’ recounts a fictitious group of people [Jewish and not] partying in a camp after the war as they wait to go to America, England and Israel.  The point is they all try to dress and party in spite of the lack of dress and food to celebrate their survival.

Cosplay costumes are about “fandom”.   Originating in Japan and now popular in North America, at events like FanExpo Canada people dress and act the part of their favourite character from film, anime, gaming, television, manga or comic books.  It’s a kind of creative homage.

Samhain or Halloween is about “disguise”.  People dress to avoid being recognized, and thus harassed, by evil spirits that cross over to make mischief on the one night between harvest and winter.

So if  Purim is about “survival”, how do we account for the presence of Superheroes, Space Aliens, Cowboys and a Rock Star in the Synagogue, instead of the characters Esther, The King, Mordecai and Haman.

My friend Josh is a parent, Jewish and makes a living for the world largest costume company, Rubies Costumes.  I asked him if there was a connection between the level of orthodoxy and the strictness of costume choices.  I was surprised to learn that record rentals of mascot characters like Elmo at Purim go to the strictest Jewish community in the GTA.

Photo Credit:  JACK GUEZ/AFP

Ultra Orthodox Man Reads the Story of Esther in Synagogue, Israel Photo Credit: JACK GUEZ/AFP

He further explained, no one wants to dress as Haman or the King anyway.  Giving the child the choice of what to wear keeps them engaged and gets them into the Synagogue.

Good point for all parents.  Once there, what they are wearing is irrelevant to the fact that they are in their community, disengaged from media, slowing down to connect emotionally [by booing the bad guys] and linking memory through smell, taste and touch [Haman’s Hat pastries].

I tried to tease out Cultural differences for Purim between Jewish communities in Canada, the USA and in Israel, but could not find anything meaningful.  You can find traditional witch and contemporary zombie along with strawberries, clowns, swat officers and princesses in parades in Israel around Purim.

The conclusion is that costume play at Purim is like costume play any where, any time.  It is a function of access to consumer goods, time, money,  what is socially accepted by the community and general appropriateness dictated by parents [lol not the grandparent].

Making Stock or In Praise of my Brother-in-Law

The loss of my brother-in-law, Greg, was an unfortunate casualty of divorce. I miss him very much.  He is an intellectual, a patron the of the arts, an entrepreneur, a father, a honky-tonk piano player, a wine appreciator and a damn fine cook.

While the brood of children, my sisters, husbands and assorted friends gathered to socialize in their Calgary home, I preferred to pull up a stool in the kitchen.  Greg would pour me a glass of something special, always a cut above what was being served in the living room.  He would cook, now and then making a comment about politics or about the dish.  Mostly though, it was an easy silence and feast for the senses.

The first thing I learned from Greg was about Champagne, but the best thing I learned was about making stock.  That it is so easy to make and that nothing compares to making dishes with stock suited to your own taste.  Keep in mind that stock is not a formula.  Each batch will be unique depending on the ingredients, but all yummy.

Making stock is uber easy, but must be attended to in the first half hour and not forgotten on the stove.  A great time to make stock is when the kids are in bed and you can freeze frame True Detectives or your other favourite show to skim the foam.

Tip 1.  Don’t throw away cooked bones or carcasses, instead remove as much fat as you can and throw into large, separately labeled, zippered baggies in your freezer.  I have bags for turkey, chicken, lamb [including gnawed lamb chops] bones, and seafood including lobster and shrimp shells.

Tip 2.  Keep a couple of carrots and a celery rib/leaves on hand in the fridge.  You can wrap them very tightly in tinfoil to stay fresher.

Tip 3.  Do not add salt.  That addition is for what you are ultimately using the stock for.

Tip 4.  Invest in a skimming ladle from Pampered Chef.  I got one in 2013 and can’t remember how I stocked without it.

Instructions:  Put a medium to large sized stock pot beside your cutting board, compost pail and chopping knife.  With the fat/skin removed put the meat/bones you have chosen to stock into the pot.

Cover the meat/bones with cold water one to three inches above the bones.  Turn on to simmer.

Add two bay leaves, 10-12 peppercorns, two chopped carrots and half stalk of celery/leaves and a smidgeon of chili flakes.

Tip 5:  Sometimes you might try adding dried mushrooms or other starchy veggies like cabbage or turnips, but do so sparingly.  Experiment.

Tip 6:  If you are going to add other seasoning, stick with whole herbs.  For example, cumin seeds not ground cumin.

As it simmers, not boils, use a spoon to keep skimming the foam in the first half hour.  It’s annoying, but doing this during the initial stages of cooking is key to a good clear stock.

Keep simmering until the stock reaches the intensity you desire.  For example, I usually simmer it down till one to two thirds of the water has cooked off.  This intensity makes for varied uses in gravy, soup or stock for paella and risotto, for example.

Turn off the stove and let the stock cool till you can safely drain it into a large bowl through a sieve or cheesecloth.  You can further reduce the fat content by putting the stock overnight in the fridge and skim off the fat in the morning, or when completely cool you can bag and freeze it immediately.

Tip 7. Use a Sharpie to label the bag because once frozen it’s hard to tell the difference between different kinds of stock or leftover gravy.

Tip 8.  Sometimes it’s nice to have stock divided into small sized bags for quick interventions.  For example, your husband or child is sick and you want to make a small portion of chicken soup!

I made a pseudo-Bouillabaisse with frozen left over BBQ salmon fillets and ten cups of poultry stock.  It was amazing and likely never to be repeated.