Familiar Favourites

I am happy to report that after almost three years to the day, I finally made it back to Canada to visit my family. I hear you ask, how had it been three years?! Well, the first 18 months were spent adjusting to life in the UK, wedding planning and honeymooning, and hosting family this side of the Atlantic. The second year and a half speaks for itself. What can I say? Time flies when you’re busy and happy, not so much when you’re stuck on an island in the middle of a pandemic.

During my years apart from my family and home country, I spent many an hour dreaming of the food I would cook and eat with my loved ones when we were reunited at last. Blowout celebration meals, nostalgic trips to favourite restaurants, litres of maple syrup, and Ruffles All Dressed potato chips were among the intended list of homecoming comestibles, to say nothing of my sister’s well-intentioned but ultimately ill-fated gourmet outdoor picnic.

Apart from the Ruffles All Dressed chips, which, I assure you, were in bountiful supply, none of these fantasy meals actually happened in the fortnight I spent in Canada. Instead, our family time was spent cooking and eating the cosiest, most familiar and well-loved dishes we had in our repertoires. The sense of occasion seemed far less important; home food favourites were the order of the day.

Read on below for a look at my fortnight of familiar favourites…

Hot apple cider by an outdoor fire

After a long flight I know I can count on my mum to cook a big, bubbling lasagne. I cook from her recipe, but somehow hers ends up so much better than mine. I don’t mind; it’s the natural order of things.

Bacon quiche is another homecoming classic my mother is virtually famous for. I want another slice just looking at it. Best served recently baked – still just warm – alongside sweet, smoky baked beans.

Homemade chicken noodle soup is the best possible use for a chicken carcass following a Sunday roast. My mum had roasted a chicken the weekend before I arrived, so I just couldn’t help myself.

Cognisant that I was enjoying two weeks’ leave from work but my siblings were not, I spent a couple hours one afternoon making a big pot of chilli and cornbread. I transported the feast, complete with sour cream, chopped coriander and cheese, to my sister’s house for an evening catch-up. To say she and her husband were pleased by the ready-to-eat feast is a real understatement.

Homemade chicken fingers are dead easy, and really fun to eat. But heed my warning: evidently cooking a large quantity of these becomes rather tedious. Luckily any leftovers didn’t hang around for long.

One afternoon my mum and I went to our favourite speciality foods store and bought a lovely loaf of focaccia to go with my Italian beef stew. It was heaven – and the leftover stew tasted even better the next day.

For my niece’s first birthday party (a party for the adults, really), I was asked to whip up a batch of sausage rolls. I more than happily obliged.

Upon arrival back in the UK I felt compelled to continue the practice of cosy, home-cooked comforts. Not two hours from landing home I was busy stirring a big pot of broccoli soup, my easiest and fastest soup recipe. So easy, it’s achievable even for a weary traveller after a long-haul flight.

Sunday’s lunch was a classic roast chicken with maple roast parsnips, roasted Brussels sprouts and creamy mashed potato.

I love this roast because it reminds me of an extremely pared back Christmas dinner. Speaking of which, with Remembrance Day suitably observed, it is truly time to adopt a more festive focus. Seasonal spices, traditional ingredients and a bit of indulgence all have a starring role in my Christmas kitchen, but none of these matter unless I’m surrounded by family and friends with whom to enjoy them.

At the end of the day, I suspect the anticipation one feels in the run-up to Christmas is a bit like the anticipation that comes from extended periods spent apart from loved ones. Planning and ambition add to the fun, but ultimately it’s far more important to cook things that allow everyone to enjoy the time together. The food may fuel the festivities, but it’s the people you will remember.

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