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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

and a very merry christmas to you

I arrived home in Vancouver five days ago and am still catching my breath.

The past week has been a blur of good food, old friends, hugs, kisses, cookies, drinks and dancing until the early morning. I broke my three drink rule and partied like I did in high school, because even Santa knows I've been a little too good this year.

Last night I made dinner for my family, and we exchanged gifts on Christmas eve in the company of my brother. We scratched lottery tickets, shared our simple presents, and had some close family friends drop by to share a bottle of wine.

We kept it simple this year. I received a large stack of books and couldn't be happier. I made my dad a homemade cookbook, gave my mom two books from her wish list, and bought my brother an exclusive magazine and a guidebook to Las Vegas. On the more extravagant side of gifts, my brother is taking me to Las Vegas for New Years. Now that's a gift I won't refuse.

This morning I made my parents breakfast and now we're taking it easy.

It has been an amazing year. I've worked hard, laughed hard, and loved openly.

I hope you are all having a great Christmas, eating well, and finding yourselves in good company.

christmas eve

Halibut with balsamic reduction, grilled polenta cakes, white asparagus, and a blue cheese, pear, walnut and arugula salad (not in photograph)

halibut with balsamic reduction and polenta cake

smoked salmon baked eggs with aged cheddar and chives, hash browns and toast
smoked salmon baked eggs

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Sunday, December 09, 2007

Gillian’s Holiday Survival Guide

I’m tired of giving gifts. In the past years I’ve found it easiest to agree not to do gifts with friends. Most of my friends are in university, so it seems a little silly to be spending money on presents when we're still struggling to pay off student loans. This year I’ll be doing a secret Santa, and buying gifts for my boyfriend and my family.

I avoid buying gifts that will end up in the trash bin. I believe in gifts that will be used, read, or eaten. Pre-made gift baskets and gift sets may seem appealing because they’re festive and presentable, but half of the contents usually end up being useless.

Wrapping paper is expensive. It’s expensive and it's not long before it's torn up and lying in heaps on your living room floor. Add on Christmas cards, ribbon and tape and your gifts are getting pricier by the second. There are a few ways out of this. You can either get your gifts wrapped at the store, buy cheap wrapping paper at the dollar store or IKEA, make your own out of craft paper, or use newspapers, magazines and shoeboxes to come up with something unique.

I always feel like liquor and chocolate consume my Christmas holidays. I have nothing wrong with this. But this year, I’m trying to stick to the 85% dark chocolate that makes me feel like I could fly, and to limit my drinks at holiday parties. I have a four drink limit that will allow me to feel great the next day. Truth be told, I don’t like cheap chocolate and I don’t like hangovers.

Suddenly department stores are laden with great gift ideas, beautiful boxes of colorfully wrapped chocolate, cheap gift packs and all the answers to your holiday cheer. Every time I walk into these stores I have to reality check myself, stop in my tracks, and repeat the words “I do not need any of this and it will not make me happy”. Then I dance through the store to the cheesy Christmas music while dodging women with perfume samples.

Christmas parties can be fun. It’s nice to see the quiet kid in the corner drink too much rum and eggnog and run around with his pants off. But I can only handle so much mingling and drunken debauchery, so this year I’ve been taking it easy. There are a few Christmas parties I plan on attending, drink in one hand, sugar cookie in the other, but there are others I have avoided. The reality is I only have so many nice outfits, and my social skills wear thin after a while.

I work in a clothing store, and currently every woman that walks in is going nuts trying to finding the perfect Christmas party outfit. The secret to not spending a fortune: cute black top, cute black dress. If you have one top you can mix into different outfits (pencil skirt, dress pants, jeans), and one black dress for the dressier parties, you’re set. A festive blazer or cardigan can also help. Add some festive jewelery and you're good to go.

Christmas doesn’t have to be stressful. When it comes down to it, it’s all about getting together with family and friends, eating, drinking, and celebrating. So break out some high quality chocolate, pour yourself a glass of champagne, and enjoy this holiday season with class, leaving the unnecessary stress with the carolers at the door.

santa and I last year
Santa and I last Christmas. I was telling him how good I'd been.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

tis the season

I strut into the corner store in the morning with no make-up and dark sunglasses.

I buy vegetable shortening and eggs, and smile at the woman behind the counter.

"I'm baking cookies," I tell her, "but I can't bake, so we'll see how it goes."

She smiles. "I'm sure they'll turn out fine."

"No really" I reply, "I mean I can cook, but I've never been able to bake very well, I'm bad at chemistry."

Back at home I start mixing ingredients. I follow my grandmother's recipe and try and concentrate on measuring correctly, adding things in at the right time and not forgetting anything.

Five minutes later I'm back at the corner store.

"I forgot flour!" I yell to the woman behind the counter as I run to grab a bag.

She can't stop laughing as she swipes my debit card.

"Okay, I believe you now, you can't bake," she says, as I explain my various baking mishaps of the past.

You’ll be happy to know that the cookies did turn out, and if you’re a brave baker like myself, there’s no better recipe to get you in the holiday spirit than my grandmother’s ginger cookies.

ginger cookies

Grandma Young's Ginger Cookies

5 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp ginger
1 tsp each of soda, salt, cloves and cinnamon
1 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
2 eggs lightly beaten
1 1/4 cups molasses

1. Combine dry ingredients in large bowl.

2. Using electric mixer cream shortening and sugar.

3. Add eggs and molasses.

4. Gradually stir in flour mixture.

5. Divide dough in four parts.

6. Wrap in wax paper and refrigerate until firm.

7. Roll out dough, cut into shapes, and bake at 325°C for 12-15 minutes.

*Don't forget flour.

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

sing to me ayah

There are women in my life who inspire me daily.

There is one women in particular re-entered my life a couple of summers ago.

It started with an email. Out of nowhere she had found my blog. We had met years ago in San Fransisco, and hadn’t spoken since. Once the emails started, they continued. I started to read her blog. Our skin deep similarities, shared through words, brought us closer together.

Then she showed up alone from California. She arrived in the middle of the night after an eternally long train ride. The next morning she stood in my kitchen, tall, dark haired, pouty lipped and stunningly beautiful.

My cousin Ayah came all that way because another family member was getting married she wanted to celebrate with us. It didn’t matter that her immediate family wouldn’t be there, she wanted see her relatives and spend time with her grandmother.

Since the last time I had seen her she had changed her name, grown taller and more beautiful. She had led anti-Bush protests, perfected her rich-as-butter singing voice, tattooed her arms with various art, darkened her hair, and bloomed into a beautiful woman.

It was minutes before we were strutting the streets of the city together, popping into vintage stores, digging our feet into the sand at the beach, kicking back vodka sodas together and agreeing that we could be a dangerous combination.

During her stay I saw how close she was to my grandmother. She was always by her side, taking her hand, making sure she was okay.

Even though she’s twice my height, with dark hair and exotic features, when I’m with her I know I’m with family, with a kindred spirit, even a part of myself.

We met again at another wedding this summer. Once again, money or time didn’t stop her, and she made her way to Vermont from California, alone and with the help of strangers who were going to the wedding as well. In Vermont she helped make the cake, swam in the lake in her clothes, slept in the bunkhouse and knew every guest by the time we left.

At the wedding she wore a floral dress and looked like an old fashion movie star. We raided the buffet and tore up the dance floor. I watched her twist and turn and take photos of everyone in admiration.

It’s hard not to love a woman as bold and beautiful as Ayah.

When she enters your life you want her to stay there. You want to see her, hear her, and be near her.

Happy Birthday beautiful, and thank you for coming back into mine.

ayah and grandma
a dangerous pair