‘As ithers see us’

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
– Robert Burns

Ok. I get it. The parts of my life that I make public – especially on social media – seem enviable: living in a new country, surrounded by beautiful architecture (more on that later), easy access to awe-inspiring countryside and quaint towns, with dazzling European cities a short plane ride away. Career is doing quite well, marriage is going strong and we have a cat that really loves to cuddle. Living the dream? You fucking bet I’m living the dream. And I give thanks for all of these things every single day.

I struggle a lot with what to post on social and have done so ever since Jeff and I crawled out of student debt and were finally able to think about travelling further than Montreal. Some people genuinely want to see and hear about our experiences and actively request photos and status updates, especially of our adventures while living in England. Others, and I know first-hand because I was this person for many years, might find it frustrating to scroll past travel photos, especially if they’re at work and it’s not Friday afternoon yet.

Hello from #whitby! #daytrip #199steps

A post shared by Heather Hewer (@heather.hewer) on

A few years ago, I read, loved, and thought an awful lot about this piece, 7 Ways to Be Insufferable on Facebook. To my eternal amusement, an acquaintance on Facebook actually posted it and suggested that his Facebook ‘friends’ should follow its advice. An excellent candidate for a brisk ‘unfollow’.

I try not to fall into any of the annoying categories the writer listed, and often ask myself if a post fits his criteria – is it:

  • interesting?
  • informative?
  • funny/amusing?
  • entertaining?

Now I realise there’s nothing more tiresome than a person who thinks they are funny, and isn’t, and I know my limitations – I can’t tell a joke worth a damn, for instance, but I like to think I’ve made a few people laugh over the years. I try not to complain, in real life or on social. I think that whining online (or worse, ‘vaguebooking’) is deeply boring, especially if the person complaining isn’t receptive to suggestions or solutions. That said, my stance changes completely if we meet up for a cup of tea or a glass of wine –  I’m all ears and sympathy.

When posting, I like to share interesting articles, tag people in recipes that are right up their alley, or support a restaurant, jazz venue, musician or product I particularly like. I’ve worked in social media – I know how much every single like, retweet, share, or comment can mean to the person responsible for engagement. But I don’t always manage to stick to these guidelines, and if everybody did, our feeds would be nearly empty, with tumbleweeds and suggested posts rolling through them. You can’t just ‘fix’ people like that, any more than you can control a party beyond food, drinks, places for people to sit, lighting and music.

And this criteria gets really murky when it comes to travel photos. If one were take a hard line with that article, travel photos are an instant ticket to being insufferable; reeking of ‘image crafting’, ‘attention craving’, ‘narcissism’, and ‘jealousy inducing’. But what about the people who truly want to hear about these trips? What if I’ve taken a photo I’m proud of? What if posting from the city I’ve travelled to is the quickest way to let my loved ones know I landed safely? What if friends and family miss us, but also understand that we are taking advantage of an amazing opportunity and want to see the evidence? What if they are -gasp- happy for us?

I’m not going to stop posting travel photos. It’s enough that I’ve given my cat her own Instagram account that people can choose to follow or not.

I’m also not going to tell you about the not-great parts of my life. Why would I? And I certainly wouldn’t do it in a forum like this. But just like everyone else, I’ve had them. I’ve got them. One of these days I’m going to actually create the t-shirts I keep meaning to, that simply say:

You don’t know.

Because You. Don’t. Know.

We’re all just walking around, doing the best we can every day, even if our best isn’t always that great.

When I was very young, most of my world was bland, mediocre, if not downright ugly – my family’s church springs to mind as a particular example of hideous modernity.  It was all an affront to the eyes of a bookish, romantic girl fascinated by old stone buildings, Victoriana, fairy tales, princesses, hobbits and pretty things. I once wrote an exam at Guelph C.V.I., one of the oldest schools in Ontario, and thrilled at its ‘oldness’ – the closest I ever got to feeling like ‘Anne of Green Gables’. That girl is still me, and I delight in drystone walls, hedgerows, 18th-century stonework, rolling hills, fields of grazing sheep, and the stunning cathedrals of Yorkshire, England, Great Britain, and Europe.

But bless, I also know the power of the Unfollow button, and it’s there for a reason. Use it. Nobody needs to know.

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Remember, remember – Bonfire Night is coming

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Halloween, schmalloween. Bonfire Night is one of my favourite things about my adopted country. Last year we had two perfectly crisp, clear nights for the festivities, the Friday night was Roundhay Park’s annual massive bonfire and fireworks, the Saturday night, Bonfire Night proper – 5th November –  spent at a fun house party with lots of chili con carne and jacket potatoes, a fire lit in the backyard brazier, and one of their obliging, yet anonymous, neighbours had a seemingly endless supply of fireworks. We walked home with reddened cheeks, serenaded by the pops and bangs of fireworks from every direction.

This relatively obscure celebration stateside nonetheless has rather rich representation in pop culture:

Into gezellig before it was hygge

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With Dutch parents and relatives in Canada, I grew up with a few Dutch words tumbled into their otherwise excellent English. My Oma (grandmother) called me kleine meisje (little girl), delicious food and drink were lekker, and cosy, homey spaces were described using the almost untranslatable gezellig, which to the untrained ear sounds exactly like someone trying to clear their throat.

So after seeing the Danish word hygge (hue-gah) suddenly pop up everywhere last autumn – blogs, bookstores, any place that uses the word ‘lifestyle’ unironically, I was a bit taken aback until I read this Guardian article, The hygge conspiracy.

Friends, after two years in England – in The North no less – I can tell you that Northern Europeans need these friendly words. But what we need even more are candles, throw blankets, thick cardigans, slippers, hot drinks and rib-sticking comfort food. It’s a different cold from Canada: damp, chilly and the nights draw in ridiculously early.

Call it whatever you want, this isn’t a lifestyle trend, it’s a necessity. A winter night in Leeds would be cold comfort indeed if I had to go without any of these things.

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@the_leela – she’s doing gezellig right

 

Happy Yorkshire Day!

Ilkley Moor

It’s been almost two years since we arrived and fell in love with Yorkshire. Here are a few of my favourite things.

The countryside

All I can say is that the Dales seized me like a helpless infatuation when I first saw them and will not let me go. Partly I suppose, it is the exhilarating contrast between the high fells, with their endless views, and the relative lushness of the valley floors, with their clustered villages and green farms. – Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island

Trips out of Leeds, especially in a car, are hilly adventures of sweeping vistas, grazing sheep, drystone walls, and green fields separated by hedgerows, even if it’s just a cab ride to the local airport. Every time I go on a walk, my throat seizes up with happiness at the beauty that surrounds me, stirring something deep within. We are still scratching the surface on this one, working on finding walks that are do-able from rail stations and begging people to take us with them whenever possible.

The weather

I still have the same small bottle of sun cream I bought in spring 2016. This is a feature, not a bug. We do get sunny days here, made all the more special by their rareness, but the sky in the above photo is pretty typical. Nothing a good raincoat with a hood, a pocket umbrella and water resistant shoes can’t handle. Winters are green and gentle, spring arrives fitfully around February, and the mood becomes downright festive when the days start stretching out in their approach to summer solstice. I’ll take the trade-off of shorter winter days for being able to walk home at 10:30 pm in the late June dusk.

The people

‘Where are you from?’ is the question I now anticipate after I’ve greeted a shopkeeper, ordered something in a restaurant, or asked someone if I’m waiting for the correct train. Leeds doesn’t get very many international visitors, and people who choose to move here fascinate locals in a charming way that just doesn’t happen in more touristy places like York. Whether I’ve been making new friends at temp jobs, going to Meetup.com events or hanging out with musicians, everyone here is friendly, happy to answer questions, make recommendations and always up for a good chat. I might get the occasional dour taxi driver with interesting views on Canada’s French population or why London sucks, but hey life is life.

The accent(s)

For the rest of my days, I will always have a swell of affection when I hear a Yorkshire accent.

Just don’t ask me to speak Yorkshire. I can’t. Stop asking.

The food

Sorry to anyone who is somehow holding on to 1980s stereotypes of British food…it’s 2017 here too. I’m working on a post all about Leeds’ amazing food scene, but in the meantime, let Amy convince you to eat here.

The music

Jeff really should guest post this section, but in his absence I will say that people of all ages are devoted fans of, and actually go see, live jazz all year round, not just during the 10 days of the Toronto Jazz Festival.

The shopping

Ah, back on my native heath. Leeds is the centre of shopping nirvana in The North, but I often dub York, ‘Sex and the City meets Harry Potter’, for its streets filled with luxury brands displayed in diminutive medieval shop windows and hen parties chatting excitedly while drinking cosmopolitans and prosecco in pub gardens. I may be biased but I think the shopping is better still in Leeds, with everything from the recently opened branch of the department store John Lewis, to high-end stores in a stunning glass-roofed set of Victorian arcades aptly called Victoria Leeds, to normal stuff I can actually afford at Trinity. If you can think of it, and it’s in Britain, it’s probably in Leeds. The only exceptions that I have been able to determine so far are Uniqlo and Flying Tiger. Get on that, guys.

The village – Chapel Allerton

It’s probably more accurate to call Chapel Allerton an inner suburb of Leeds, but I have fallen completely in love with this village. Equal parts Stars Hollow and the decorative hamlet in Hot Fuzz (minus the mysterious murders), we live smack dab in the very centre of it and I am grateful every day that we do. It’s so well appointed that we often go days without ‘going into town’. Five pubs, ranging from hipster chic to frumpy Wetherspoons, lots of restaurants, two grocery stores, a butcher, a fishmonger, a cheesemonger, salons, a travel agent, a pet food store, bakeries, a burger joint, a pizza place, it’s pretty great.

The trains

Brits will laugh at this, be slightly stunned by the revelation, or wonder just how backward Canada is, but the rail network here is amazing. Leeds rail station is a busy hub that’s connected to pretty much everywhere. The only disappointment is how damn expensive it is to try and go anywhere at the last minute. But, with a bit of forethought and a practiced hand on National Rail Enquiries, travelling around Great Britain is a dream. Unless there’s a delay. Or a hen party. Or a bunch of drunken louts. Or all three at once.

So if you want me to visit you while you’re in London, I’m going to need a few weeks’ notice – unless you’re paying.

The rebirth of Yorkshire

You have to be pretty thick to not be aware of Yorkshire’s recent past, especially during The Thatcher Years. Films like The Full Monty, Brassed Off and Billy Elliot all portray a bleak time in the region’s history.

Even this 80s music video, filmed in Hebden Bridge, shows how grim Northern towns were back then, not helped by what looks like a wet winter day. Hebden Bridge today is a vibrant destination, filled with boutiques, cafes and pubs that cater to residents, visitors and walkers. Nearby Haworth has the Brontë Parsonage Museum and one of the steepest high streets I’ve ever staggered up.

I’ll take any chance to link to one of my favourite songs of all time, with stunning examples of Yorkshire hills, architecture and stonework appearing throughout the video.

Summertime and the livin’ is easy

Chicken, mango and chili salad

The incomparable Nigella’s Chicken, Mango and Chilli salad.

Yorkshire summers can be a bit sporadic compared to the extreme summers of Toronto, but all the same, I’ve collected a few recipes for when temperatures reach the mid 20s and it actually feels like summer. Don’t you dare laugh, Torontonians – we don’t have air conditioning here!

Courgette and Ricotta with Pine Kernels and Basil – Nigel Slater
My go-to summer dinner for the beloved vegetarians in my life. And it doesn’t call for parmesan, unlike a number of classic Italian dishes. Next time I am going to slice the courgettes on a mandolin… using a veggie peeler made the slices too thin, and switching to my chef’s knife was slow, careful work that still produced uneven slices. But when that happens, you call it ‘rustic’ and move on. I’m also going to take Nigel up on his suggestion to add a couple of smashed bits of sticky roasted garlic to the dressing as well.

And unless you have a super-powered exhaust fan crowning your stove, this recipe is better grilled on a barbecue outside than on a cast iron griddle inside.

Chicken, Mango and Chilli Salad – Nigella Lawson
I’m going to pull back The Wizard’s curtain for a moment and freely admit that I’ve actually never made this recipe. Every time we’ve had it, my husband’s been on cooking duty. With lean protein, greens, fruit, a tangy dressing and some chilli kick, it’s everything you want in a light supper. Even though this is definitely on the Thai continuum, Indian garlic-coriander naan suits it just fine, for the carb-lovers in your life.

Pecan Crusted Salmon – The Kitchn
I can’t take credit for this one either – it’s another recipe Jeff reaches for weekly, ever since we’ve decided to add more heart-healthy fish and nuts to our diet. He’s noticed that he uses far fewer pecans than the recipe calls for, so halve the suggested amount.

Classic Chicken Salad – The Kitchn
Although I have been very careful to not buy kitchen wares willy-nilly, I bought a glass bowl specifically for this salad, so it can live good-naturedly in the fridge any time life gets busy and I need lunch, NOW.  I scatter a few dried cranberries in along with toasted walnuts.

Strawberry Shortcake – Serious Eats
I’ve saved the best for last. The shortcake biscuits come together surprisingly quickly – a rare promise fulfilled by a recipe headnote. Gradually adding heavy cream to the flour mixture instead of cutting in chilled chunks of butter means the dough is ready in a matter of minutes, and hand forming the 4 portions takes mere seconds, which is a bonus: no need to roll out the dough and use a pastry cutter. Lots of little crags will appear after baking, perfect for strawberry juice to sink into.

Yes, you can buy an angel food cake, pry it apart into ‘slices’ with two forks and tumble over macerated strawberries and dollop with whipped cream, but using these slightly sweet fluffy biscuits as a base is far superior. This is a glorious dessert – I always forget how damn good it is until I’m eating it. The perfect pudding for your Wimbledon party.

Shortcake biscuits

 

The Arnold Palmer – Iced Tea Lemonade

iced tea lemonade

Yes, the clichés and jokes are true. An English ‘summer’, especially here in the North, is definitely something to get used to.

I had my suspicions over the years, when the Observer Food Monthly section would post hearty recipes that involved time in the oven or on the stovetop, even in July. I remember last year’s summer – I  wore a cardigan or a jacket a lot, on the many grey cloudy days that struggled to surpass 20 degrees (celsius).

In contrast, most Toronto and New York City publications are filled with no-cook or minimum-cook recipes and suggestions (even I had one published!), knowing that no city dweller in their right mind turns their stove on from June until September. It’s all barbecue, salads and cold soups. Or lovely picnic meals made up of store-bought potato salad, hummus and pita, cut veggies and maybe a few paper thin slices of prosciutto and ragged, torn buffalo mozzarella.

But we do sometimes get beautiful sunny weather here, made all the more special by its very rareness. I learned last year that May is often the very nicest month of all – the days start to stretch out like epic films, you can sit in a beer garden in a twilight that seems to hang around for hours, and everything green grows like crazy. And if you’re out on the moors, you can start to feel almost hobbit-like. Especially if you stop at a country pub for a little something to ‘fill up the corners’.

Roundhay Park

As a hardened veteran of Toronto heatwaves, the random ‘hot’ days we get here are easily met with my three-point plan:

  • Wear something linen
  • Eat cold foods
  • Drink Arnold Palmers (aka Iced Tea Lemonade)

I owe a debt of gratitude to Making Lemonade – Carrie perfectly cracked the formula for Starbucks’ Shaken Iced Tea Lemonade. My sleepy village in north Leeds doesn’t have a Starbucks, so I would have to go into town to get one otherwise.

The Arnold Palmer is named after the famous American golfer. It’s really a simple case of ‘I’ll have what he’s having’ – a woman overheard him ordering iced tea with lemonade and asked for one too, calling it ‘that Palmer drink’. If we want to get pedantic, The Arnold Palmer is actually 3 parts iced tea to 1 part lemonade, and when the two parts are equal, some Americans call it a Half & Half. There is something very American about this drink – it has that preppy East Coast, boat shoes, seersucker, Breton stripes and Wayfarers as you summer in the Hamptons feel about it.

While you do need to plan and make the components in advance, it will be well worth it when you’re sipping what’s, in my opinion, one of the most refreshing drinks on the planet.

The recipe

Start by making a simple syrup to flavour your lemonade, and if you like, your final beverage as well. There are many of detailed recipes out there, but really, it’s just heating an amount of water in a saucepan until it’s almost at the boil, then adding the same amount of granulated sugar (a 1:1 ratio) and stirring until it’s completely dissolved. Let cool and then decant into a clean jar, where you can store it, covered, in the fridge for a couple of weeks. I went with 1/3 cup of water and 1/3 cup of sugar, but that’s only because I ran out sugar.

Move on to the iced tea. Steep 2 bags of your favourite black tea (I’ve used Twinings English Breakfast) for 2 minutes in one litre of hot water, fresh off the boil. Let cool on the counter, then place in the fridge to chill.

Now for the lemonade. Mix 1/4 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice to one litre of cold water. Add in simple syrup to taste. I added 3 teaspoons, but I don’t like my drinks very sweet. Place in the fridge to chill.

Here comes the fun part. If you have a cocktail shaker, use it. My big glass measuring cup does just fine. Throw in some ice cubes, then pour over a 3/4 cup of the iced tea and a 3/4 cup of the lemonade. Shake or stir briefly and pour, ice and all, into a pint glass, or a Tom Collins glass if you’re fancy.

If you like your drinks sweeter, add more simple syrup to taste before pouring. I don’t bother – part of what makes it refreshing is that it doesn’t have a cloying sweetness like so many other cold drinks. If you want yours with a little kick, bourbon’s your dance partner.

Goodbye 2016

2016

I want to say “and don’t let the door hit you on the way out”, but I can’t.

While 2016 has truly been rotten in many, many ways, it’s also been a great year for me, personally, as long as I don’t think very hard about the twin mournful slumps I had after BREXIT and the US election. Or all the horrible things happening in Syria and the terrorism throughout Europe. Or the sad moments every time an icon died.

Is it even ok to talk about the good things? I feel like I have survivor’s guilt. But then, I’ve had enough shitty years over my life that I think it’s ok to have a good one, especially one in which some hard-won, deeply-cherished goals have been met.

So I’m going to be positive, and if you feel like sharing my happiness, stick around. I’ll understand if you don’t. But there’s an otter eating breakfast at the end…

  • Setttled into village life in Chapel Allerton, with easy access to the city centre of Leeds; the compact foodie and shopping heaven I’ve always dreamed of
  • Temped (very) regularly at one of the colleges in Leeds, where I’ve made some amazing friends
  • Sat, mute with tears of happiness, during Jeff’s final recital for his masters, which he (of course) smashed. I’m so proud of him!
  • Had a great Bonfire Night weekend
  • Pulled off a pretty boss Christmas dinner
  • Cried over every icon who died, but also rediscovered some amazing music and films in their honour
  • Learned how to knit
  • Took some amazing Yorkshire walks – but also feel like I’ve merely scratched the surface
  • Flirted with a Glaswegian after drinking whisky
  • Took three old-fashioned steam train trips; I’m good now
  • Visited London enough times to know my way around, but still feel the magic every time I step off the train at King’s Cross
  • Launched the UK version of my proofreading and copyediting business, heatherhewer.com (tell your friends and colleagues!)
  • Still can’t get the hang of “Alright?” “Yeah, alright” as a greeting. What is wrong with me?