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Tuesday, 20 December 2016 10:51

Missing home this Christmas season

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It was the winter of 1993. Dean and I (for he was not yet Chefhusband) had coaxed his elderly orange Volkswagon Rabbit over Roger’s Pass, en route from Kelowna to Winnipeg, where we’d spent my first ever Christmas with his family.

Unaware of just how my introverted traits might clash with a house full of charades-loving extroverts, I had not yet made a sparkling impression.
But there was still time to turn things around.
Next piling into the Hossack family Accord, five of us headed southwest into Saskatchewan to ring in the new year.
With a table table set for 10, Paul and Rose Ilchuck, the family’s much-loved honourary grandparents, were waiting for us on their family farm near Estavan. All we had to do was drive through a blizzard, with a faulty heater block, in minus fifty degree and plunging windchill.
Once there, I would win the Ilchucks over, and my hoped-for in-laws would see what a lovely girl I really was.
After all, everyone’s grandparents always loved me.
Dean drove and his mom sat next to him to chat, while I filled in the back seat with his brother and sister. (Dean’s dad, a Ph.D candidate with a dissertation to defend, remained in Winnipeg).
And then, as it always does, hypothermia began with a shiver.
“Um, it’s really cold back here, is there a car blanket in the trunk?” I should have said.
“Is there a truck stop coming up? I’d like to buy a bucket of coffee to sit in.” I should have said.
But when no one else seemed bothered by the crystals of breath we collectively exhaled, and not wanting to be thought a complainer, I tucked my face into the collar of my (inadequate, Okanagan-weight) jacket and remained mum.
Perhaps I’d already moved through the first several stages of freezing to death; through lack of co-ordination and slurred speech, straight to impaired cognitive function.
In retrospect, leaving home at all, or continuing past my mom’s house in Swift Current, might have indicated signs of mental deficiency. I could have, after all, been eating leftover venenyky with cream gravy right then — in a warm house.
That’s where a hot bath was.
And that’s where I tried my hardest to disappear to.
Warm thoughts, however, were of no use, and I continued to shiver. And shiver. Until something went snap in my back.
Quietly, I added “Poorly Specimen” to my list of personal deficiencies. And as I leaned against the car door for vertical support, I told myself I didn’t actually wish that it would suddenly spring open.
Hours later, near the Ilchuck’s farm, two strapping young lads met us at the road on skidoos. Wheeled vehicles, it turned out, could no longer navigate the driveway.
Thus clinging to a masked man, I was next taken for a doughnuts-in-the-snow ride of my life, and finally deposited on the farmhouse doorstep, where I made a wingeing sound and was led upstairs to bed.
For the next few days, from flat on my back, I listened to the sounds of loved ones visiting. To rowdy games of Pit being played at the farm table, where players, overcome with game-lust, launched themselves from one end of the table to the other as they grabbed madly for spoons.
I know there was food. Rose was a legendary cook, but I remember none of it.
Looking back, I imagine roasted chickens and country cakes. Cinnamon toast bread puddings and perogies slathered with sour cream.
And what of my plans for redemption?
Let’s just say that the following year I merrily ate turkey at home.

Cinnamon Toast Bread Pudding
Cinnamon Spread:
2 Tbs butter, softened
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Bread Pudding:
4 slices day-old white bread, crusts removed (4 1/2-5oz)
1 cup milk
1/2 cup half and half
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
Butter a 4-cup baking dish.
Cream together cinnamon butter ingredients.
Lightly toast bread. Spread with cinnamon butter. Cut into cubes. In a large bowl, whisk milk, cream, eggs and vanilla. Add bread and toss to soak. Transfer to prepared dish.
Bake at 350F for 45 minutes, until a knife inserted in centre comes out clean. Serve warm.

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