My family lived on a Ranch full time from 1993 until 2015. We were a 5th generation family farm.
I am writing this blog to share my experiences living there. It is best to read the blog chronologically by going through the archives, starting with the introduction in January of 2010.
The blog starts with the arrival of my great-grandparents to the farm in 1947 and will follow the families to the present.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Hopes and Fears of all the years....

I love the Christmas carol, Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, and over the Christmas season the words "The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight" are sung silently to myself. The winter days before the Solstice are dark and bring with them a time of inner reflection. Our world becomes smaller or less distracting without the long evenings that can lure us outside into our gardens or far long walks. The insides of our homes become more of a focus with the gardens under snow and the earth frozen. With the darkness comes nostalgia, grief, reflection. There is also the hope as the light returns, "Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light."
Each year as I prepare for the holiday season, and the gathering of friends and family, I like to give my house a good "rub down". I am very much bound by the seasons when it comes to the rituals of housecleaning. I have always done a "spring cleaning" although many years due to the contraints of time not as thorough as I would of liked it to be. At Christmas I also like to wipe down the house to prepare for our guests. Most years find us with a houseful and many adventures. This year it is not to be and there will be a different kind of celebration, and with work in town and the schedules of our busy teenagers I found myself unable to do the usual winter clean of our home.
I discovered many years ago that one of the ways to avoid the pressures of the holiday season was to let go of as many expectations as possible and to focus on the welfare of others. I am very fortunate in my work as a Social Worker to have a lot of opportunity to do that and there is much that can be done to ease the stress of the holidays for others. This year I reflect on our home and despite the lack of security that we have I feel the strength of our family and friends and that becomes our true "home for the holidays."  I have a strong image of the homes in Japan being swept away in the tsunami, and know that we are not alone to feel such a threat of loss. Home is truly where the heart is.
Despite the transient nature of our homes it is still a delight to decorate them for Christmas. This in itself is a path to memories of past family celebrations and people who are departed and those that live far away. One of the most impressive Christmas celebrations I have ever attended was at my father's Aunt Jacqueline's home in Switzerland. Her husband was a well respected Doctor in Geneva and she was a concert pianist thus their apartment was often used for entertaining. The large rooms lent themselves perfectly to gather in entire families. She purchased a tree that brushed the ceiling and decorated it herself. The tree was revealed by dramatically flinging opening the doors of the parlour.

The Christmas tree in Tante Jacqueline and Uncle Mico's apartment in Geneva.  Tante Jaqueline gave us some of her decorations that she used that year. The tablecloth on the small round table is now used as a tree skirt on our tree.

Our Christmas tree on the farm, 2011.

Some of the Christmas decorations that Tante Jacqueline gave us, they are now almost 40 years old. 

I am listening to Tante Jacqueline play the piano. I may actually be sleeping here but I do recall going into a deep dream when she would play. She had incredible talent.

Tante Jacqueline's living and dining room would be full of tables for the dinner.

My cousin Caroline and I in the matching plaid dresses. We were always given matching clothes during these family trips.

I close this passage with a Christmas poem about our house. May everyone find their light in this season. May everyone be happy.

To fall in love with your house,
gazing, lost, at a light fixture.
Or onto the knots in the wood ceiling,
allowing the very essence of that building into your heart.
The many marks of time, growth, victory.
All of that and suddenly more,
the light as it falls on the windows, the soft yellow of the kitchen.
All this time I thought the being mattered more than the matter,
but now I don’t know.
The armchairs sit like old friends, slightly hunched and waiting.
the table is calling for work, food and flowers.
Floors, chipped and needing a good washing.
I want to take it all into the bath with me, a good long soak.,
shake it out and hang it into the sweet breeze.
All of this living, it just doesn’t seem possible that it has been with us this long.
The corners where the mice lived, the wood carved by the pet bird,
Not everything has been kind to this house.
Indeed it has been threatened and harsh words have been said.
For all of that I am sorry now,
deep in love.
Will you forgive me?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas Past and Present

I started collecting family recipes in 1983. My Aunt Karen, my mother’s sister from New Zealand, started my collection by giving me a small recipe book with a few of her favorite recipes. She wrote;

I am not a good cook, I did learn that through trial and error.  I quickly become overwhelmed in the kitchen, especially when constructing a large dinner.  I decided very early on to specialize in a few dishes and learn them to perfection. I followed my Aunt’s advice and never followed measurements, and so have mastered a small repertoire of dishes that I will start sharing on this blog. The most well used, the French salad dressing, was last week.  With Christmas approaching I thought it timely to reveal our Christmas dinner staple.
The recipes that came after the recipes from New Zealand were dishes that my grandparents, Gus and Renee, often prepared. I would watch them cook with my little recipe book in hand, carefully trying to record the steps they took to prepare a number of savory specials. Although I started recording this recipes 1983 it would be many years later before I would actually try them. The Leeks au Gratin made it’s debut as our Christmas dish in the year 1993.  Brent and I were living on the farm in the Atwater Cabin and were celebrating our first Christmas with a child, our son Mico. There was such a sense of optimism as we settled into our lives on the farm with our own family, and for many years we could host the major holiday celebrations.
The original recipe is as follows;

 Our first Christmas as a family on the farm, 1993, my father, Eddy, and my brother-in-law, Byron, helping themselves to dinner that included Leeks au Gratin.

Christmas 1993, Caroline, Mico and Brent.

Christmas 1994, our table has gotten bigger. Soon we would outgrow this cabin.

Christmas 1994 finds us with two sons, Mico and Aidan, pictured here with their Uncles Burke and Byron.

True to my Aunt Karen's suggestion I have made modifications over the years. Following are the instructions to how I have modified the dish, unfortunately perhaps adding quite a bit of calories in the process.
 It is important to take the time to clean the leeks as the dirt gets right up into their stems. I cut the leeks in half and then run water over them.

 Slice the leeks and boil in water. Do not overcook.

O.K. here comes the calories. To make the dish creamier I use a Bechamel Sauce.

Add the cheese to the sauce. I use the leek water to help thin out the sauce and add more flavour. Also add fresh ground black pepper. 

Now we come to the sad part of the recipe. I only use Gruyere cheese in this recipe and I have not been able to find good Gruyere in Canada. For some demented reason Switzerland exports the very worst cheese possible. Below is the true Gruyere that was given to me during my last visit in Switzerland. The cheese is grated and put into the sauce, saving some to put on top of the dish. 

Every visit back to Switzerland my family purchases this beautiful cheese for me. The only place they buy the cheese is in the little village of Hermance. The grocery store there has always purchased their supply of cheese from the same farm in Gruyere. 

The sauce is mixed in with the cooked leeks and allowed to bake well over an hour, particularly if the sauce turned out to be a little runny. I like it to be cooked until it has a nice brown cover. 
This dish was produced for our office Christmas party however it will be made again on the 25th. 

Christmas is not always a happy time for people. In fact in my work as a Social Worker the end of November until Christmas is one of the more challenging times to support my clients. People grieve for what was or what they wish could be. The stress of trying to make a celebration with limited resources creates a terrible strain on families. The emphasis on cheer can make those suffering from loses feel their grief more acutely. 
Christmas has become a time for me to acknowledge my own loses and honor the stories that people share with me about their own sad times. I look back with love to those family dinners with my family, and allow the grief to take a seat at the table too. Allowing the truth to be recorded on these pages brings back to me my history on this farm and brings with it the challenge to accept the present. I still will have people I love dearly and deeply at my dinner table, and we will have the Leeks au Gratin, where ever that may be.

Christmas 1996. We now have a much larger dining room to host the celebrations in the Herald House.

Christmas 1996 brought much to celebrate with the addition of our daughter, Marlee.

Christmas 2004.  We are doing a good job of filling up a generously sized dining room.
Christmas 2010.  The beauty of a full table.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Family Secret Revealed

One of the common immigrant rituals that comfort people who have moved far from home is the creation of familiar foods from their countries of origin. Even as a  second generation immigrant  I enjoy eating food that my family consumes in Switzerland. The recipe that is made regularly and exactly like my family does in Switzerland is the following salad dressing.  I was brought up on this salad dressing although my mother used French's mustard for many years instead of the traditional Dijon.  My children will not eat salad with any other dressing other than this family sauce. When I do my yearly trips to Switzerland to visit the family I find a keen pleasure in making the salad dressing, knowing that it will be just like they are used to having.
I apologize in advance for the lack of measurements.  My mother always made the dressing by using her tablespoon but I abandoned that technique years ago, opting instead for a visual feel.

I use a good quality Dijon mustard. Put a couple of generous spoonfuls into a bowl.

I then add some olive oil, Extra Virgin cold pressed. I put in enough so that it covers the mustard, and then a bit more than that.

I then mix in some Apple Cider Vinegar.  The Bragg is my favorite brand.  I also use Balsamic vinegar, and sometimes a combination of the two. It is nice to drink red wine while you mix up the sauce.

Some freshly ground black pepper.

As Canadians we have to put a new twist to the European traditions so we serve the sauce on the side. My Swiss family always dresses the salad, and often makes the dressing in the salad bowl itself. We prefer to keep them separate as then if there is salad left over it can be saved.  One of my endearing memories of childhood meals is having to finish the salad so it wouldn't be wasted.  My father could not see food being thrown away so there was always a lot of pressure to finish the salad, which is actually good for the health.
As I was making the above salad dressing my daughter commented that it reminded her of Aunty Michele, my father's sister in Switzerland. That is when you know you have made a family recipe.