Category: Life in the Pacific Northwest

Brandied Cherries

My state of the art cherry pitter.

For years we had a big – I mean BIG – cherry tree, but eventually it fell to disease and we had to chop it down and plant another. That one didn’t reach maturity before we had to move, but by then I was hooked on having a freezer full of cherries. Now every year I wait like a cougar in a tree for the prices to drop: $6.99, $4.99, $3.99, then, finally last week, $2.99 a pound and I pounced!

Judy sneaking cherries

The California cherries are the first, then Washington state, then finally, fresh BC cherries from the Okanagan Valley, the inland, fruit and wine producing region of the province.  Sweet, dark and Juicy, this year they are very BIG – almost too big for my doubled barrel cherry pitter. Yes, I’m serious about my cherries.

I usually freeze them with a dusting of sugar (don’t judge me!) but this year I seemed to hear about brandied cherries at every turn. “Too much trouble,” I thought, but they did sound good – Christmas gifts, I rationalized – and I soon found myself in the liquor store, looking at Brandy.

“Use a brandy you would want to drink,” the recipe cautioned. But I knew I wouldn’t want to drink any of it. Then I saw the Sliivovica (pronounced Slivovi-ch-a) and was flooded with fond memories of travelling in Eastern Europe where every generous host brings out the Sliivovica. Not good tasting! But as a woman I could gracefully decline, and our Czech friend Peter could say he was driving, but my poor husband always had to drink a glass with the host – even at breakfast!

Those were the days.

So I bypassed the fancy French brandy and bought the bottle of the crystal clear Croatian Plum Brandy, the only brand of Sliivovica they sold. Peter had told us how as children, in plum season, they would collect prune plums on the way home from school and drop them in a barrel fermenting in the shed on the way into the house so their dad could make his own Sliivovica. We visited his house, family compound really, in a small Czech town where his Aunt and cousin’s family still live, and I could just picture it.

So I bought the bottle, and then was plagued with doubt as to whether it would work in my recipe. And, like most of my cooking attempts it had quickly become my recipe.

But oh my goodness! I tasted a bit of the liquor after boiling the cherries in it with the sugar, cinnamon stick and cloves and wow! It’s going to be amazing! Now if I can just wait the prescribed 4 – 6 weeks.

I might have to buy another bottle and make another batch. The cherries will be around for at least another week.

Let me know how yours turn out!


Make your own Christmas traditions

One of the things I loved about being a young couple starting out with a new family was making our own Christmas traditions, but as the years go by some of those traditions have started to grow a bit stale and I’ve decided not to feel guilty about changing them up.

Yesterday I made my annual pilgrimage to the Nanaimo ferry terminal to pick up my daughter and her friend who were arriving from Vancouver for Christmas. Unlike last year’s snowy Christmas (Have a Ferry Merry Christmas) it was a bright, crisp, sunny day. Like the scenes of people greeting loved ones at the airport at Christmas at the beginning and end of Love, Actually, the happiness of families and friends greeting each other as they roll out the terminal door is tangible in the air and never fails to bring a tear to my eye.

This year we are happy to have someone new in our midst–a friend who otherwise would be alone for the holiday this year. And tonight my Cuban American daughter-in-law, 3000 miles away across America from her family in Miami, is making a traditional Cuban Christmas Eve dinner for us all of pork (we don’t have a whole pig, but we do have the sour orange marinade flown in from Miami), rice and beans, plantain and flan. We’ll still have a turkey tomorrow, but we love this new addition to our Christmas traditions. So delicious, and change keeps the holidays fresh.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from writing the Fortune Bay books, whether it be old friends or new, husbands, lovers, children or extended family –your real family is made up of the ones you love.

I know Christmas is not all mistletoe and holly–in fact I’m making that a tag line for Louise’s Christmas book–so if you find yourself alone (or are looking for a little alone time in this busy season) feel free to join the big, messy, loving family in Fortune Bay and leave the real world behind, just for a while.

(Home for Christmas is half price until the end of the year at all the major online retailers. just click on the cover in the sidebar.)

So I encourage you to make your Christmas into the holiday you want. Whether you spend it with family, friends, or alone with a glass of eggnog and a good book, I hope your holiday season is a joyous time.


Cherry Cake

I had a house full this week, my niece, her partner and their 5 children visiting and, it being cherry season here in BC, I took the opportunity to make my favorite Cherry Cake. It’s sort of like the French Clafoutis but the beaten egg whites make it more of a cake, less pie. And the almond extract makes it smell amazing!

We’ve been lucky to have a prolific cherry tree for many years and I make this cake form either fresh or frozen cherries.  Best eaten the first day – as if you could resist!




Have a Ferry Merry Christmas

I wrote this post a few years ago, but it seemed apropos again this year.

Merry Christmas to all and I wish you a happy New Year.

One snowy night before Christmas, I waited with an expectant crowd in the parking lot of the Nanaimo ferry terminal on eastern Vancouver Island. The crowd was buzzing with excitement. An entire family in Santa hats arrived, adding to the festive air.

Lights spilled out the open terminal doorways highlighting the falling snow. We don’t usually get snow on Vancouver Island, maybe a couple of days each winter, but in this particular Christmas season we, like most of Canada, had been battered by wave after wave of snowstorms.

Taking ferries to and from the mainland is a fact of life for islanders everywhere. As I waited in the dark parking lot for my daughter, I thought back to the first time I spotted her, blurry through my tears, among the hundreds of students pouring out into the parking lot on her first Thanksgiving weekend home from university. Now, years later, she lives in Vancouver and once again the ferry was bringing her home for the holidays.

But what about my husband? I’d taken him to the tiny Nanaimo Airport two weeks before in the middle of our first, blinding snowstorm to catch a flight east to attend a family emergency. When we got to the airport we discovered nothing was flying out that day – but if he could get the ferry to Vancouver,  he might still catch his connecting flight. In almost white-out conditions, we made a run for the ferry and he did just make his flight that day.

Now, two weeks later, as I slogged through the snow to pick up my daughter, I wondered if he’d get home the following night in time for Christmas. My trusty Rav 4 made it to the ferry, the windshield wipers barely clearing the window before the sticky snow covered it again, the headlights showing only the swirling snow ahead.

My daughter and I stopped at the airport on our drive home to see what the chances were of my husband’s flight making it in the next night, Christmas Eve.

Apparently zero to none.

In the empty, echoing airport, we heard an attendant tell a traveler that the bags he’d last seen two days before in Vancouver might be in the truck of lost luggage that had just rolled off the ferry. And that they might get the trucks unpacked in the next few days.

“But tomorrow is Christmas eve,” he wailed. “All of our presents are in those bags.”

“Sorry,” the attendant said.

Although we here on the coast love to complain about holiday ferry sailing waits, the fact remains that, barring gale force winds, the ferries will make it through. They’re our stalwart link to the mainland and, for me, on this unusually snowy Christmas, the ghostly white ship was the envoy responsible for pulling our family together.

It kept on snowing right through Christmas Eve, but finally, at noon on Christmas day, my husband made it home, with his bags, on the ferry.

It’s the same story for families up and down the coast, from Saltspring to the Queen Charlotte Islands. In good times and bad, and when all else fails, we count on the ferries to keep our families together.


I hope you made it together with you and yours this Christmas.

See you in the new year.

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