Epicurious 2014

I am a lover of food, both eating and cooking. I take it naturally, my entire family loves food. My mother was an amazing cook but surprisingly let none of her five girls do much of it. I don’t know if it was her “way or the highway” attitude or if she just genuinely loved preparing the meals, but I remember at age 18 in the university dorm knowing very little about cooking. Luckily I relied on Mr. Noodles and Kraft dinner for my nourishment…the novelty quickly wore off.

I think my first real interest in learning to cook came from my worldly travels. I was privileged in 1993 to travel the globe mostly in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. There I was exposed to many food and spices I had never heard of let alone like. In fact I remember being in Istanbul and not eating goat cheese or olives! Now I would think this a fate worst than death for my love of them.

Overtime I would come to marry a Moroccan and learn a great deal from the foods his mother would prepare for the family. I have a genuine love of ethnic foods, spice and more exotic cuisine. My career in hotels has also allowed me the privilege of many, many divine meals from world-class Chefs paired by the sommelier. While my skills are a far cry from theirs, my palate yearns for the flavours I have come to know.

My first basic exposure to skills and technique came from The Joy of Cooking and my love of Julia Child. I first saw Julia on a PBS Saturday morning show and thought she such an exotic creature. Her voice alone drew me and her passion for tasting and eww-ing and ahh-ing over her own meals was mesmerizing. I picked up a used copy of TJOC at a make-shift alley yard sale in the West end of Vancouver for $0.50. The book was tattered and worn, with sentences underlined and corners turned over as reminders of favourite recipes. I would later purchase the 75th anniversary edition with pristine pages and even a page marker.

My style of cooking is definitely traditional with a twist. I take a recipe and make it my own, never following the recipe to the letter. I am quite experimental and know what I love to eat, so I allow my palate to lead the way. Above all I despise food waste and look for ways to maximize all food and leftovers.

My goal for 2014 is to cook more. Eat more and share more of my food. I hope to make more preserves of the bounty of Vancouver Island and even make some wine this year. My husband has also caught the cooking fever and the once could-not-boil-water-guy has actually made a few interesting meals including a Bechamel sauce!

For now, I leave you a photo montage of some of my favourite meals this past year.

Faithfully Epicurious in Victoria, BC

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For Baby Sawyer

This year my youngest sister had a baby. It was probably the one and only great thing that happening in 2013 after the passing of our mother and then the passing of her father in law only days before the baby’s birth. Regardless, we all have found peace and joy in the birth of precious baby girl Sawyer. She is the seventh child of my sisters and officially making me the only sister without children. That’s a whole other blog post sometime :).

In honour of Baby Sawyer’s birth and as a symbol to the crochet art my mother so adored, I made Sawyer a pink afghan. I am the only one of five girls who took up crocheting from my mother and I hope the love, pride and joy of the craft reminds them of the loving gifts Mom made for us in her lifetime. I hope my work will also bring many memories to all who enjoy and love them, and included a note with the gift that read “for cuddling and snuggling with Sawyer”.

It was simple Granny Ripple pattern crocheted in Lion Brand’s yarn appropriately called “Pound of Love” in Cotton Candy Pink.

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For The Love of Yarn

I started crocheting when I was 5, taught by a lively friend of the family, Eunice States. Eunice was known as “the homemaker of all”; – an amazing cook, proprietor of THE best pickled mustard beans and the crochet goddess like none other. She got me started with thick Pentax nylon yarn and a large hook to make a pot holder. Later my Mom would hone my skills to make delicate sugar-starched Christmas ornaments and large afghans.

When I was younger it was “not cool” to crochet. Only old ladies did that. I would sometimes make a pot holder or two, but was not a regular project type of gal. About 15 years ago I decided it would be cool to knit and took a knitting class at Michael’s Craft Store. Someone’s grandma around the age of 80 was teaching there on Saturdays and she could knit circles in her sleep. She showed us a complex knitting project she was working on as our future inspiration that was comprised of a knit evening bag with pearls knit into the design. I could barely hold the knitting needles together but she said by the time I left class I would be knitting pro. I did knit well  when I left the class and made my first sweater. It took me about a year but it was a marvelous work of art!

Around the same time, I picked up the crochet hook again. I started by making an inordinate amount of hats, mittens and wash clothes. There were over a hundred and I donated them to a local women’s shelter. From time to time I knit hats and mittens, and even joined a monthly evening for ladies stitching over coffee or wine. I remember speaking with someone there and we both concurred why we crochet.  It is ‘me-time”. I often pick up a project when there are stresses in my life. Crocheting is a refined solitude all in its own. The comfort of a project to soothe a busy mind or rest a weary soul and at the end, a thoughtful project for someone to enjoy.

Since my mom stopped crocheting due to Alzheimer’s I have felt a sense of pride to keep her joy live on in the family. None of my sisters crochet. I have made some projects for them to enjoy this year including a few for my sister’s newest baby.  The joy of my projects is larger than expected; – the delight of someone’s face when they receive your project is priceless.

One particular project that meant the most to me was the Nova Scotia tartan afghan. I received the yarn kit as a gift from my Aunt Lynn when we were on a family vacation in Gabarus, Nova Scotia in August of 2006. Little did we know it would be Mom’s last vacation to remember. I

Nova Scotia Tartan crocheted afghan

Nova Scotia Tartan crocheted afghan

took the kit home and it sat in the closet as I was not particularly fond of the NS tartan. I crocheted the afghan this year and sent it to my Dad with a note of the story, as a remembrance to him of the vacation and the art Mom so loved.

My Dad loved it and I know my Mom would have been proud to see the finished product of the bag of yarn turned into a keep sake afghan of the last memories we shared together.

Posted in Alzheimer's, Beauty, Christmas, crochet, Halifax, inspiration, love, Nova Scotia, Passion, sisters | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Pass The Quality Street Chocolates

My Mom was the biggest kid of all at Christmas. She started her shopping in summer and began her crafts right after the Christmas of last. She would plan her baking lists in August and was the first to decorate her home. The tree came out of storage faithfully in mid-November and was always the first up in the neighbourhood. Her newest crocheted ornaments would adorn the tree each year, heavy of sugar starch and a story to share of all who visited during the holidays. Mom was the first up on Christmas and some mornings even lingered hours before we were waken for 6:00 a.m.!

Mom’s Christmas traditions included many, the Quality Street chocolates among my favourite, (these originated from Halifax). The moment we saw the first of many purple downloadoctagonal chocolate tins, the excitement flowed. My mom was quite famous for re-taping the so-called “unopened” tins and putting them under the sofa, hidden from all. She selected the shiny purple chocolates which held a hazelnut and caramel centre. My sister would pout when she found they were gone.

Mom’s beloved scotch shortbread was a treasured family recipe for their melt-in-your-mouth buttery, creaminess. Whipped butter and sugar, beaten by hand and pressed with a crinkle-cookie cutter bejeweled with a shiny sugar ball, unmistakably signaled Christmas.

Dad bought her two favourite perfumes and Mom would giggle in surprise when she pulled them from her stocking. Our clothes would linger from her new perfume scent after her tickles, hugs and kisses shortly thereafter.

Christmas signaled family and times spent visiting friends. Food was abundant, hand in hand with storytelling and laughs. Many Christmases our parents struggled to put Christmas in front of us, but that was never evident to us from the joy, happiness and laughter they instilled in every Christmas.

As the grandchildren came along Mom got even more excited about Christmas; – her babies having babies. She even got to see Christmases that included her grandbabies having babies!

I had hoped this Christmas without her would never come and many days this year felt like cancelling Christmas. My Muslim husband pulled Christmas together this year. He did it for me, he did it for her. Mom would be proud of his efforts and she would not want us to cancel Christmas. She would want us each to celebrate Christmas in the ways she had taught us. (I eventually managed a few Christmas surprises she would be proud of that I’ll share after Santa delivers his presents!)

My Dad divided up the crocheted ornaments Mom had for her tree between his five daughters and himself. The detail and work Mom put into these ornaments is unparalleled. 1146479_10152125906911079_1924151738_nI had so many memories of Christmas past with my sisters, with her, with Dad as I placed them on the tree. My husband told me I was smiling as I placed them on the tree.

I did not buy the Quality Street chocolates as my husband won’t eat them and there’s too many for me. I was pleasantly surprised to find them in bulk at The Bulk Barn today and I bought only the ones I like. As I unwrapped each of them, I had so many memories flood back and nothing had changed from when I was 8 years old. I heard my sister complain of the purple ones being absent and Mom’s perfumed hug as she laughed and rocked me on her lap.

Merry Christmas to you Mom, I love you and miss you. Thank you for the Christmas memories.

Posted in Beauty, Christmas, crochet, Halifax, inspiration, love, Passion, sisters, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Seven principles to life

  1. Love – the world goes around with love. Without love, we would be lost. Love for each other, even love for “things”. We have an indispensable need to love and be loved. Many things grow from love.
  2. Learn – knowledge is power. To grow, we need to learn. From the womb of our mother, we learn words, sounds, love and feelings. We cannot cope without learning and our greatest talent is to teach someone else to learn.
  3. Believe – no matter what we believe, it is our central point of faith. Whether God, Allah, karma or simply of tomorrow, the world is a hopeless place if we do not believe. Believe in tomorrow, change, faith and even each other.
  4. Hope – no matter how bad a situation, it will always get better. Sometimes living on hope is the only thing we have. Sometimes it is the dream that puts us to sleep every night. Hope may be the only thing we have until tomorrow.life-is
  5. Friends – we all need a friend; – real or imaginary. Children dream up friends as a symbol of acceptance, love and camaraderie. We have BFFs and acquaintances; friends we tell our deepest and more sacred truths to without fear. Friends just make the world a better place to be.
  6. Change – change is imminent. Without change we die. Change makes us better people as well as evil people; – we own the choice. As great people said before us, “be the change you want to see in the world”.
  7. Beauty – there is beauty in everything in the world. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Find beauty in everything. The world’s a better place when you can see beauty.

Live in the moment. Live life to the fullest. Live long.

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To Be Loved

My Mom passed away on March 18, 2013 after 10 long years of Alzheimer’s. She left behind a husband, five daughters, six grand children, five great grand children and lives enriched because of her. While her death was sudden it was not unexpected.

worlds apart, lives together

worlds apart, lives together

Death is a mixed emotion that leaves a lonely trail of deceit. Deceit in how we cope, feel and express to those around us during the mourning process, but also of the deceased. Strange as it may sound, the deceit of her death was masked of the hope we would find in the future.

After all, most Moms are the matriarch of the family and my Mom was no different. She was the glue that held us together no matter what we faced. Fighting with sisters, heartache, hardships, loss, births of babies, graduations; – Mom was the one we called.

Lucky for us we have each other. Sisters with an unbreakable bond no matter the distance or miles between us. Since the passing of my Mom earlier this year, we all found out how unwavering that bond is. From the deceit of a husband, the loss of a job, insecurities of life and now the birth of baby, the sisters stand united. The questions I had of Mom’s merciless death have now all been answered. The love and life of her lives in us all.

worlds apart, lives together
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The Problem with No Problem

I have a big problem with service professionals using the phrase “no problem”. The pure statement “no problem” implies there IS a problem. While most service professionals use it to convey assistance, they should really say “my pleasure”. It is, of course, their pleasure that I am obliging their business. My request to them should be of “no problem” regardless of the request.download

The problem with “no problem” is society has accepted it as a general term within the service industry. Maybe it is the disregard we have for etiquette, protocol, respect and even grammar nowadays. Jargon and slang are quickly taking over our environment everywhere you go. You have probably experienced it when you have been referred to as “hey guys”.

No-Problem-NewsletterThe next time you have a service encounter and hear “no problem”, correct them and say, “what problem”? I bet they will think twice and see the problem with no problem.

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Waking with the angels

Early bed, early to rise. Beauty requires sleep. Brains need resting. We have heard a proverbial saying about going to bed early and / or waking early. Now I just feel blessed to wake each day.full-moon-angel-night

When I was a teenager I stayed awake all hours of the night watching music video countdowns. In my twenties, I stayed out till the wee hours, dancing as much as I could. In my thirties I did not seem to need much sleep and paid little attention to when I went to bed or when I arose.

Now I spend much time assessing my quality of sleep to ensure I get the most of each day. I prefer going to bed at a set time of about 11:00pm and I awake at 5:30am. Even on weekends without any alarm clock I wake naturally. Sometimes my cat prompts me with her meow or cat dance on my head as she is accustomed to her early morning feedings.

I enjoy waking early as I don’t want to miss a second of life. I am so blessed with so many privileges of health, success, family and happiness; – it’s hard not to wake up and enjoy this! This year I have faced many stressful moments that I was not expecting nor could I find the immediate answers to. Despite some of these difficult times, I still found each day a blessing and could not wait to wake and enjoy it.

My mom used to say wake up early before everyone, you may still see or hear the angels. I still see them when I awake.

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Hotels: Non-negotiable essentials

I have traveled the world and stayed in the worst and best hotels. I have good benchmarks for quality and expectations as it relates to the overall hotel product. In addition, I have worked in the hotel business for over 23 years, I have “been there, done that” many times around. During transitions and transfers in my own career, I have stayed for extended periods of time; – often months, in my own properties so have had first hand experiences critiquing the product I sell.download

Recently I stayed at a non-branded hotel I know well from a market I worked in, that at best is rated a 3 star hotel. Quite honestly, I had low expectations and they met almost all of them with a few surprises. There were 5 overwhelming points of interest in this hotel that I believe with a little effort and money, they could make it a really great hotel. Regardless of which hotel, I believe there is no compromising as it relates to these five constituents:

  1. Shower – hotels have to have streaming showers with good water pressure and plush towels. No one wants to spend an extra 45 minutes rinsing and then poking their fingers through the towels. Low-flow showers are an industry standard to conserve and are very different from showers with low water pressure and flow issues. Any hotel manager responsible for making decisions around the shower selection must experience a shower in their hotel. Inspect what you expect. Make sure the low-flow shower is actually appropriately saving you money while delivering an exceptional shower versus triple long showers being taken due to lack of water pressure.
  2. Bed – a well maintained bed and linens are essential. Most everybody does not sleep well away from home. The quality of bed comfort and linens do not need to exasperate the restlessness. Especially if they must have a pressure-less shower in the morning affording an extra 45 minutes of precious morning time.
  3. Lighting – squinting over your laptop and using matches to light up your compact makeup mirror are not fun ways to remember your last hotel stay. Hotel managers need to ensure appropriate lighting and fixtures along with appropriate wattage.
  4. Wakeup Call – at 1am no one is good at following the self-programming wake up call system and what guarantee do you have it will actually work? Hotel should allow the switchboard to accept calls that are performed by a personally greeting in the morning or an automated phone call. At least it will be someone else’s fault if you don’t receive your wakeup.
  5. Coffeemaker – this is your first cup of coffee before the real coffee, and it needs to be sufficient. It does not need to be $10,000 a pound hand-picked from the side of mountain with Monks-chanting coffee. It should not resemble last night’s dish water.

Whether you stay at a non-branded bed and breakfast or a luxury world class resort, expectations remain. Hotel managers must inspect what they expect, and have members of their leadership team experience their hotel from the guests’ perspective to ensure they are hitting the mark.

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Daily Prompt: The Cat Says Meow; – Purrfect!

I truly am a princess. I never dreamed anyone could dream up this lifestyle. From the brink of homeless, starvation and ultimate desperation, I live a royal existence from my early days. Subjected to mental and physical abuse from birth, I found myself homeless on the wrong side of Victoria. With nowhere to go, and no hope or dreams possible for the future, I lived on the streets until I could seek shelter from a city-run shelter. I spent several months there until a loving foster family came along. Within days of fostering me, they adopted me and the rest they say is history.

I yearn for nothing and living in palatial residences across country. Well, not a REAL palace, but it seems that way from my perspective. My adoptive family treats me as I am their own flesh and blood, never any mention I was not theirs from birth. From sprawling manors by the sea of the Atlantic to mountain-range views of the Olympic peaks in the Pacific, I am blessed with all a girl could ever dream. I have a full staff including house servants and chefs, and I eat a balanced diet from the sea and land. My daily nourishment is provided from the beautiful bounty of Vancouver Island, incorporated into organic meals along with hand-made natural afternoon snacks.

Exercise is a regular part of my day and is filled with top of the line toys and games, as well as regular play dates with the family. Nap time is treasured and I have the most cozy and abundance of nap areas when duty calls. Wellness is imperative in our family and regular wellness visits to our doctor are complemented with regular dental appointments including twice annual cleanings. My hobbies include bird watching and I am part of the neighbourhood watch, on the lookout for suspicious activity from the sofa in my front window.

The centre of all family is love and affection. My parents treasure cuddle time and nurture the soul, spirit and mind of each family member with an individual approach. We have daily dinner conversations, evening together times and frequent family “chats”.

I am a purrfect princess wanting for nothing.

Norah - rescued December 2006

Norah – rescued December 2006

Norah was rescued from the Victoria Pound in 2006 at the age of 18 months. She was found by a refuge collection company, who heard her cries from a box destined for the trash. She had been deliberately placed in a box taped shut at the roadside.

adorable Norah

adorable Norah

Norah is a purebred Maine Coon, aged 8 and living life to its fullest while successfully running the Tahir / Rafuse residence.

You can see more of her on Instagram. WARNING: frequent, adorable cat posts.

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