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2013/12/24 / Shanan


Merry Christmas Eve, everyone!  Hope you’re having a fantastic and somewhat relaxing day (is that possible the day before Christmas?  I’d like to think so).

As Theo grows and grows and begins to understand and anticipate the holiday, it’s made me start to reflect more on the traditions I grew up with… and give some thought to new ones we’d like to create as I forge ahead with my own little family.  It all gets me a bit misty-eyed, frankly, but I’ll try and hold the tears at bay at least until New Year’s (auld lang syne, b*tches) and remain in the the present.  Wrapping final gifts, preparing doughnut batter, and taking a snowshoe hike.

I’ve rounded up a few friends from near and far to tell you a little about their holiday traditions, so let’s give them a warm welcome!  I’ll be breaking these posts up into two parts; stay tuned for the second batch tomorrow.  On Christmas day.  Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

dutch babies holiday breakfast dessert tradition Natalia Zubko

Natalia Zubko, Shanan’s dear friend from her days at Parsons, who somehow still manages to surprise with her wisdom and thoughtfulness, and makes amazing installation art from her studio in Brooklyn, NY.

“Tradition in the Zubko household on Christmas morning was open stockings, then have breakfast… and it was always Dutch Babies (for her “Dutch Babies,” as my mom often referred to my dad, whose mother was Dutch, and us, her kids).

A simple mix of  4 ingredients:  very blended eggs, slowly-added flour & milk, all poured into an oven-safe dish of melted butter. The magic comes in the way the Dutch Babies puff up – not like a pop-over but up around the sides.  My mother would worry if she tried a new pan and they didn’t puff properly.  The square glass pyrex seemed to be the favored dish.

Served to  a simply set table – my Dutch grandmother Oma’s china, off-white and gold-rimmed with little flowers, and a big pot of earl grey or coffee out of a matching teapot in our dining room overlooking the snow-covered evergreens on the mountain.

Dutch Babies are really the perfect base for any topping – sweet or savoury.  Or, as the Zubko tradition goes – strawberries with powdered sugar, maple syrup with powdered sugar, or lemon with powdered sugar – I think you see a common denominator!

Christmas morning isn’t the same without this breakfast.  Even on holidays that I am not with the family (like this year), I make these Dutch Babies.”

switzerland christmas tradition candles on tree

Gabriela Dale, who married  one of my closest friends on a hilltop in Switzerland last February, is fearless in the face of pitch-black mountain sledding and can drink all the other girls under the table.

“Every year in Switzerland an average of one thousand house-fires occur over the Christmas season. The problem stems from the Swiss people’s love for the tradition of decorating their trees with real candles — and I’m one of those people.

My husband (a Canadian) finds the idea of real candles on a Christmas tree – in a house – really dangerous. My opinion: A Christmas tree deserves real candles. Discussions on this topic are a yearly occurrence. Cultural difference, I guess, but no matter – I always win this debate.

Swiss Christmas traditions are generally quite different from the ones in North America. For example: Trees are often purchased on Christmas Eve and decorated the afternoon of. While the kids are out to see a play or a movie, parents secretly decorate the tree and bring out the gifts – with the children believing it all to be the work of a little angel named Christkind.

But, back to our tree.  We’ve had ours for four years now. Rather than get a new one each year, we’ve planted ours in a big pot on our patio – and every Christmas Eve, we drag it inside and I pretty it up.

This year, however, I’ve decided that our Christmas tree will be for the birds – literally. I’m leaving the tree outside and will decorate it with homemade birdfeeders made of pinecones covered in coconut-fat and dipped in birdseed.

Merry Christmas birds! Just don’t get too close to my candles.” 


Gillian Sopinka, my Symmetric partner-in-crime who keeps me in stitches, swears like a sailor and rescues me from boredom every single day.

“My family is heavily into tradition. If you do something once that people are on board with, you had better be prepared to do it for the rest of your life. Seriously.

My grandparents, who are now both 88 and live in a nursing home, hosted wonderful Christmas celebrations for our family for decades in their home. I have vivid memories of all of it: the smell of my Grandma’s hand-baked shortbread (they were perfect), the silver and blue tree (her favourite carol is Silver Bells), the way the snow and stars seemed to dance across the frozen lake in their backyard, the thought and care with which my Grandma prepared each meal, each gift and stocking, my Grandpa coming home late Christmas Eve from the hospital where he worked and encouraging me to leave Santa a hefty drink (and by the way, if you didn’t know, Santa drinks rum and coke).

The first year my grandparents weren’t well enough to host Christmas, Steve and I had just moved to North Bay and bought our first house. We could DO IT, I valiantly volunteered. I really had no idea what I was signing up for, and how impossible it would be to fill my Grandma’s tiny (big) shoes. A few tears (do people actually know it takes like 2 days to thaw a turkey – wtf!?!) and generous highballs later, I think we pulled it off (that’s Gillian’s first turkey, way up top!).  But by the skin of our teeth, and with some serious omissions. There were no delicately broiled grapefruits at brunch, the champagne was not Mumm’s, the gravy required Bovril, I forgot the After Eights…But, perhaps most notably I wasn’t gracefully materializing in immaculate outfits with beautifully paired jewelry to serve & entertain effortlessly. In fact, I was lucky to hide glorified track pants under my apron.

That was six years ago. I’d like to think I’ve grown into the Christmas Hostess role. I plan ahead. Make a lot of lists. And I don’t try to “do it all” (sorry, I hate the modern woman’s cliché too, but in this case it applies!). I’ve narrowed down the traditions. Shrimp ring and tourtière on Christmas Eve have survived the belt-tightening (paired with cheese fondue – a Sopinka family tradition). We still attend a candle-light church service on Christmas Eve, and each open a gift. The gift is always a pair of new pajamas so we (in my Grandma’s words) will be “spiffy for Santa.” And when we toast each other with mimosas on Christmas Day – I drink to Bette and Roy – the real deal Christmas hosts.”

So much for holding back those tears…  Sniff.  Okay, see you tomorrow yeah?

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2013/11/29 / Gillian


So, people who know me know that a current thorn in my side is the abysmal curriculum at my eldest daughter’s rural primary school. We’re talking s-l-o-w-e-r clap than for the Collingwood Walmart (inside joke: You must read Shanan’s blog from Wednesday). And, hey – that’s not why people move to the country right? It’s for fresh air, space, and all of that fulfilling-your-inner hippie stuff.

Except what about the folks with kids who live here and send their kids off to rote photocopy-land everyday? Good question. One that I don’t have the answer for in its entirety, but for today at least, it was the School Of Symmetric. Part finishing school (this applies mostly to my youngest), part culinary institute, part atelier; today we rocked it old school. With equal pounds of butter, sugar and icing, we made dough and decorated artful sugar cookies, played outside in the snow and inside with our imaginations. There were “vacations” to Florida and Alberta (!), “strawberry gazpacho” made in a kiddo-size kitchen, forts built with pillows, and stories shared on a sheepskin rug

At the end of the day, I asked Yarrow how she liked it: “100 out of 10!” she beamed (testament to the dire state of math education we might ask?). At the same time, she confessed she is often so bored in her current classroom that she is driven to thinking about ear wax. This must be a sure sign of pen-in-the-eye ennui. She also asked me if it would always be just the five of us. Yes, we agreed, and with that the SOS secret handshake is born.

Without further ado, the photos.  As you will see, the cookie-cutting and decorating were the show-stoppers of the day. Thanks to the December issue of Bon Appétit Magazine for the holiday ‘lustre dust’ inspiration and delicious sugar cookie recipe (NB The peeps at Bon Appétit were not making their cookies with two year olds, so the end results on our end are a little more “creative!”).


This is serious business!


It’s only the beginning for these adorably hip aprons. The girls had lots of ideas about ways to use them: Painting, craft-making, cooking and gardening…Go SOS!


A determined Frida goes for the sprinkles, time and time again…!


Yarrow demonstrates the fine art of pyramid building with sprinkles to eager onlookers, Frida and Theo.


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2013/09/23 / Shanan


Bye bye summer, it was fun while it lasted.  Five days ago Theo was running naked through the sprinkler, and then this past weekend autumn showed up, rained like a b*tch for awhile, and then forced the scarves and hats out of retirement (ps, nonchalant woolen beanie FAIL, above).  We hosted an apple-picking open house because I ask you – what else are you going to do when you have a small orchard in your backyard?  Live the dream, share the wealth.

autumn apple picking party

Last year there was some unusual weather that ruined the entire apple season up here.  I can’t even remember eating one decent one.  This year?  We must have thousands.  Talk about a comeback <insert “how do you like THEM apples?” joke here>.

autumn apple picking party baby

Good apple.


Bad apple.

autumn apple picking party snacks treats

I did a little baking the day before so we had an indoor spread of apple cinnamon cake, brown butter + sea salt chocolate chip cookies, truffled popcorn, mini chocolate-apple cakes, and sparkling apple cider.  In other words, just a typical Sunday afternoon where I break out the table runner and fancy beverage dispensers.

birch straws apple picking party

Oh, the plight of the printed paper straw.  You’re a big fat Pinterest cliché but I love ya.

apple hauling



This is how feral animals children eat apples.

iceland sweater napkins

handsome dad apple picking

Almost forgot to tell you, then Jon Hamm stopped by with his kids.  Sweet.

homemade sparkling apple cider party

bucket of organic apples



The award for Best Fall Hair goes out to Gillian.


brown butter sea salt chocolate chip cookies


My nephew Nathan, who generally doesn’t give me the time of day (and why should he, he’s five), managed to drink his weight in apple cider and told me I should be a chef.  Thanks, kid.  Except how can I trust you with that crazy eyebrow??

apple picking party tree

Thanks so much to all our friends and family who came out, and to those of you whom I didn’t get pictures of! And thanks for looking through my many, many photos.  This will be an annual event for sure.  xx Shanan

ps. I’ll post some of the treats recipes soon.

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2013/09/11 / Shanan


Tonight at about 5:30 PM, I emerged from a kitchen stupor and stepped outside into the most beautiful early evening ever.  The light was just so; everything was bathed in a warm glow and a sense of ease. Chris and our friend Matty were picking apples while Theo sat in her ‘magic chair,’ snacking and watching the girls ride horses next door.  I brought out beers for the guys and then climbed the huge ladder; I got right up in a tree, looked down from above, and sighed.  I just felt like sharing some of the pictures we took, which already feel sun-drenched and hazy and too perfect to believe.












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2013/09/03 / Shanan


Sorry for the silent treatment, but my head’s been elsewhere these last few days.  I won’t get too deep into it, but I’ve been extremely anxious about Theo starting school (especially vis à vis her seemingly-forever-in-progress toilet-training) and my first in-car driving lesson, which is booked for this afternoon.  I consider myself lucky that I have, in my daily life in general, very little that truly stresses me out.  I mean I still get tired, and can feel overwhelmed, and I have my bi-monthly personal crisis about work and money, but those things don’t provoke the deep-down visceral reaction I’ve been experiencing lately that I just can’t shake.  I don’t really feel like myself.

My defence mechanism has been to retreat into harvesting and canning and preserving the ridiculous bounty that our garden has been giving up.  It’s something that has to be done right now, which turns out to be good timing. And, it temporarily mellows me out a LOT.  Have I told you my theory about the internet morphing into a space that exists for the sole purpose of posting photos of your food and your kids?

home canning dill pickles jalapeños

Image up top: Pickled green beans and corn. Above: Just a few of the many jars of garlic dill pickles and jalapeños I’ve canned.  Oh yeah no biggie, but I’ve been told I make the best pickles ever.

blanching freezing green beans garden

Blanched garden green beans cooling off in an ice-water-bath before going into the freezer.

dill flowers

We could fill our entire kitchen with dill flowers if we so choose it.  Oh, it smells amazing.

huge garden tomato

The biggest tomato so far generously sacrificed itself in a delicious caprese salad.

jar preserved lemons

I even made a jar of preserved lemons.  I don’t even know what preserved lemons are, or what they taste like.

twisted heirloom carrots

The heirloom carrots are caught in a compromising position.  Oy, that’s all I got today.  Coach, I promise I’ll be back in the game shortly. With 110%.  Thanks for listening.  xx Shanan