Sunday, April 22, 2012

Cake Catastrophes in Winnipeg

I got the colours right, just don't look at it too closely
It never fails. Every year, in December and January I am faced with the monumental task of baking a birthday cake.

Some moms revel in this time of year when they can amaze their children, impress their friends, and feel all-out smug about their baking abilities.

Yeah, that's not me.

Every year I start out with a positive attitude: "This year is MY year. I'm gonna do this! WOOT WOOT!" I find my recipe. I shop for ingredients. I start thinking about the design a few days in advance. Then before I know it, the day arrives. I can't find the one baking pan I need. Panic. Swear. Find it. Move on to baking. The cake's not rising. Panic. SWEAR. Did I overbeat it again? Damnit, I used a gentle hand. Stupid recipe.

Take it out of the oven. It's lopsided. Damnit! Panic. SWEAR LOUDLY. I curse society's expectation that mothers have some kind of innate ability to do this. I try and cut the the bubble off the top. Now it's all crumbly. GREAT. Now what do I do?! Swear! Yes, that always makes me feel better.

From beginning to end, it's a struggle
On to the frosting. This I got. Piece of cake (no pun intended). I start the beaters, I add the icing sugar and *POOF* it all blows out the bowl and into my face. DAMNIT! DAMNIT! DAMNIT! Eventually the cream finds its way to the bowl and the dust storm is under control. I eventually get some kind of frosting to congeal and attempt to ice the cake. It's more crumbs than slick icing. *Ding Dong!* There's the doorbell with the first guest arriving early. Panic! Swear!

I slop it on as fast as I can. It looks like hell. I throw sprinkles and silver balls at it. That helps camouflage its hideousness, right? My darling girl wanders by and gives me her annual pity pat on the back "That looks nice, Mom. Good job! Good for you." Smile. Swear under my breath.

I don't enjoy baking and baking doesn't enjoy me. I'm not ashamed to say I've looked elsewhere for cake love. But this year, a little miracle happened. I took a little more time. I relaxed a bit. I swore less. And I didn't get a pity pat this time. Nope. This time I got an enthusiastic "GREAT JOB MOM! Wow! This is the best cake you've ever made. Way to go!"

Smile. Pat myself on the back. Take some photos as proof.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Since summer, I've been fearing winter. I've feared the culmination of our tree pruning exercise. I've feared the giddy fire play of a former farm boy, passed off as a legitimate way to deal with tree detritus. "Seriously?" I say to Jay. He nods. He's sincere in his belief that this is a necessary evil, sanctioned by even the rubbish removal guy who told us to save our pennies and burn it.

I wrestle with my conscience. For more than two years I actively worked to convince friends, family, and the public that burning was BAD. All those presentations by toxicologists who told us that despite the high level of carcinogens contained in woodsmoke, we'd never break the love affair that people have with fire.

Oh the testosterone rush of a gigantic, life-threatening blaze.
When it came time to light the pile, I was a nervous wreck. Furtively surveying the surrounding foliage: would that catch on fire? Jay's full of manly assurance: It's winter. Everything's wet. This is why we're doing it now. Still, my heart's racing. There goes our cabin. And the surrounding cabins. All the way down the road the raging fire is consuming all of Lester Beach. The next day we're featured prominently in the community newspaper: "Family Burns Down Cottage Country."

While I entertain thoughts of mass destruction, Jay's busy setting brush on fire. He barely gets around it before it goes WHOOSH! A gigantic, 12-foot fireball. Licking at the top branches of a neighbouring apple tree. My heart races. My 8-year old son inches closer, oooh-ing and aaah-ing, congratulating my husband and fellow testosterone monkey, for an "epic" fire.

Meanwhile, my 10-year old daughter paces. She frets. Like her mother, she loudly announces her disapproval of a fire so big. Neighbours drop by to check and make sure we're "okay". I continue to pace. Higher and higher the fire goes.

Curiously, in between the fretting and pacing, I do take time to take some pictures. Wow, those gigantic flames make for good photos. Phew, the apple tree isn't catching fire. Oh look, the cabin is still intact. And yes, the flames are indeed dying down, as Jay predicted. I relax a little. By this time, daughter's left the crime scene and retreated inside where her safety bubble is preserved.

I feel relieved. It's all okay! The fire was rather exciting, wasn't it? Thrilling, in fact!

Then I get a message from a friend. From back in the day. A friend who, in no uncertain terms, suggests I've clearly abandoned my air quality principles of yesteryear. I hang my head in shame. He's right. I DID enjoy that near brush with death. The thrill of a heat so intense I thought I'd singe my nose hair. Is it any wonder fire's a habit we just can't break?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

My Kingdom for a Bagel

Jay's little circles of bagelly sunshine
Winnipeg's Jewish community has a sizable, prominent and influential presence here. So why can't a girl get herself a decent bagel in this town?

Gee, I hope that didn't sound cliche.

But seriously. When we were moving to Winnipeg, I was beside myself with excitement over my bagel prospects. I couldn't wait to find the famous North End. Surely here I would find the Mecca of Bageldom.


I found one local baker who made a New York style. But again, seriously? Anyone who loves their bagels knows full well that Montreal-style is the ONLY style. And here, I've found out from my reputable Jewish friends, there is NO Montreal-style.


So. Cut to scene: since we can't go to Bageldom, henceforth Bageldom shall come to us. Our street cred is that Jay's a lab rat. He tinkers with test tubes, mass spectrometers, and gas chromatographs for a living. So really, could building a better bagel be all that hard?

So far we've had three batches, three different recipes. Tasting as we go. Adding extra notches to our belts. Stay tuned for the thrilling outcome, when just one bagel will be left standing.  Here, on Bagel Island.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Super Fan

JKS writes me love letters at McNally Robinson in Winnipeg
Well kids, it's nigh on five years since moving to Winnipeg. Some of you may recall when I first started Olivebits I had a bit of a crush on The Weakerthans (see blog post Winnipeg Love Letters: W is for The Weakerthans). I guess if I'm being truly honest, the crush may have been directed at John K. Samson. Sure, he's not your typical crush material. But ever since high school, I've had a thing for the geeky smart boys.

In this post's collage you'll see I've finally got my wish: a personalized note from JKS thanking ME for moving to Winnipeg. It's a dream come true for a Super Fan. But truthfully, more than this sweet dream, this lovely iPhone collage, this token of my fandom, I have something more amazing.

These awesome images of the awesome JKS were taken by Jay, my very own geeky (handsome!) smart boy. While I was at home preparing for our 10 year old's birthday slumber party, he, the one who hates waiting, was waiting patiently in line for an autograph. He knew how much it would mean to me to have the book of lyrics and poems. He knew how much it would mean to me to have that personalized one-liner from a great Winnipeg ambassador. He knew I would never stop talking about it. He knew all this, and despite a whole world of embarrassment for him, he still did it. For me. For the Super Fan.

He's off to bed now. I hope he knows that deep in my heart, and way out on my sleeve, I am HIS Super Fan. And he, forever and a day, will be my number one geeky smart boy.