A Canadian’s thoughts on British snow

Many people asked me what I thought of the snow this week in Yorkshire. On one hand, it’s been a laughable amount to this intrepid Canadian, but on the other hand, I can’t join in to the jokes that colder, snowier countries are making.

People have died. People have been stranded in their cars, stranded on trains, stranded at home.

It all boils down to infrastructure. Countries and cities that regularly experience heavy snowfall have the means to remove it and melt it, while I can only guess that many parts of the UK have a seriously limited contingency plan. In contrast, Montreal’s snow-removal budget for 2017 was $159 million. When we lived in Ottawa, I remember seeing special snow melting trucks slowly rumbling down our street during particularly heavy snowfalls.

But you simply can’t expect a nation that rarely has to deal with snow to have a good handle on things when it does. And it doesn’t matter how familiar I am with walking on snowy and icy sidewalks – when I’m on the bus, I’m still at the mercy of the driver’s abilities. I distinctly felt my bus slide to a stop a couple of times at red lights. An in-town journey that usually takes 15 minutes took 40 minutes on Thursday morning. I can completely understand why people commuting from further away chose to take snow days.

And why not? Why endanger themselves when something a bit unusual is happening? Schools and nurseries were closed for part of the week, so many people had no choice but to stay home. I heard stories of families playing in the snow – tobogganing in Chapel Allerton Park, making snowmen, making memories with their kids.

And who doesn’t love a snow day? I was really impressed with how seriously the office I temped in handled various staff members’ decisions to stay home. There was no shaming, no ridicule, no sarcastic  ‘air quotes’ about working from home. If I’m honest, I was a bit sad that I didn’t live far away enough to have a snow day myself!

I grew up in the country, on an unpaved rural road. If I heard my parents listening to the local radio station before 6:30 am, I knew it was only a matter of time before my bus and/or school would be cancelled. We’d also get an early-morning phone call if the buses weren’t running. I would snuggle back down under the covers, grateful for a reprieve from math quizzes and science projects; smug in the knowledge that my brothers and I would likely spend most of the day tobogganing. Turning on the radio in the mornings this week transported me straight back to that feeling, except I had to continue putting on my makeup and checking bus times.

I also have a happy memory of my father from when I was about 16. One icy, snowy night he picked me up in town, but we had to ditch our car on an icy road about a mile from our house. We left my shopping bags in the car, and walked hand in hand to keep each other from slipping. It was nice to have my dad take such good care of me.

So it doesn’t matter that the phrases ‘freezing rain’ and ‘ice storm’ strike more fear in my heart than the prospect of snow. All that matters is that everyone does their best to stay safe and warm.

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My favourite cold and flu remedies

honey

honey – the superstar in my cold-fighting arsenal

Hola! While everyone I know has been in Mexico lately, Jeff and I have been trying to recover from forking bad colds while huddling under blankets and catching up with The Good Place.

I don’t want to sound like a baby, but man oh man, British colds hit me way harder than Canadian viruses and tend to linger for weeks. In my Toronto life, it was usually enough to get extra rest and fluids right when I first felt the ‘impending doom’ feeling hit my sinuses and expect to ride out a miserable two or three days if I caught it fast enough.

But when I’m ill here in England, I’m constantly looking for a Victorian fainting chaise longue and coughing like a consumptive. I keep expecting my doctor to prescribe a month at the seaside.

It’s no surprise that I’ve had to ramp up my approach to recovery and healing. I realise there isn’t anything super groundbreaking in this post, but if you’re anything like me, the stuffier my head gets, the foggier my brain gets, so I thought it would be helpful for my next cold to have all my favourite remedies listed in one place.

Toronto me felt that merely staying home and taking it easy was enough when I would begin to feel ill; now I literally take to my bed whenever I can. I find a book or box set that’s interesting-ish but also won’t be a big deal if I nod off. Podcasts are great for when I want to rest my eyes but worry about getting bored.

So that’s the resting part of the equation. On to the fluids:

  • Tea, and lots of it. Caffeinated black tea if I simply must be awake and alert for a while, but more often I switch to a lemon-ginger infusion. Twinings Lemon & Ginger is a staple here at Casa Hewer, but Pukka Lemon Ginger & Manuka Honey is another recent fave. If I have a persistent cough, I prefer adding a squeeze of actual honey to the Twinings version.
  • If I haven’t had any painkillers for a number of hours, a shot of bourbon added to the lemon-ginger-honey tea is a nice send-off for a nap.
  • Sparkling mineral water has lots of fizz and bubbles to soothe my sore, scratchy throat. I avoid soft drinks these days, although I might consider ginger ale for an upset stomach.
  • Chicken broth, chicken noodle soup, vegetable broth if you’re vegetarian. I wish I had a ramen or pho place nearby.
  • And when I am beyond tired of not being able to breathe through my nose, I go for some sinus-clearing Thai Tom Yum soup, or Chinese Hot and Sour soup.
  • During particularly bad bout of bronchitis, I went online to look for home remedies for a cough, and found out that avoiding dairy was the wrong plan for me – a cup of warm milk with honey at bedtime is a very effective way to stop coughing long enough to fall, and stay, asleep.
  • And also on the liquids continuum – nothing beats a long, hot shower if I’m able to stand upright without feeling faint or dizzy. Sometimes it’s easier to sit in front of a bowl of steaming hot water with a towel draped over my head.

I don’t go in for drugstore cold remedies as a rule, but lately I’ve had no choice but to pull out a classic from my childhood: Vicks VapoRub.  I completely forgot how soothing this stuff is. I make sure I’m wearing pajamas I don’t care too much about. Not that I can smell anything anyway, but that stuff is as greasy as the day is long.

I recently discovered the trick of taking a teaspoon of honey to stop coughing, so now I do that instead of having a lozenge. I save hard candies for coughing jags when I am out and about in the world.

I always forget to do this until it’s too late, but getting a couple of boxes of extra soft tissues is a necessity when I’m constantly blowing my nose. And I wash my hands every single time I blow my nose or touch my face.

And it may be obvious, but these super bad colds have scared me into taking even better care of myself when I am healthy – eating properly, getting enough sleep, and paying attention to my body’s early warning signs.

If you’ve got a favourite cold or flu tip, please feel free to share in the comments. And has anyone ever tried the trick of applying Vicks VapoRub on the soles of your feet to stop coughing? I’m super curious.

‘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.

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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.

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