Where Words Defy the World
Cannery Row Magazine
A Literary Journal . . . with Benefits
by Tanja Rabe
by Roger Nash
Poetry & Musings
by Mat Del Papa
by Rebecca Kramer
by John Jantunen
Three Thousand Years of Longing
by George Miller
by John Jantunen
by Randy Eady
by Katerina Fretwell
Poetry & Musings
by Rebecca Kramer
by Tanja Rabe
by Gregory Patrick
Born in Kingston - Made in Canada
by Tanja Rabe
You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.
It's that time of year again and, as I rake the leaves in my backyard on a gorgeous, early-November day infused with a belated touch of 'Indian Summer', Christmas songs already dance like syrupy-sweet sugar plums in my head.
Is my memory slowly succumbing to the ravages of age or are we getting inundated progressively earlier each year with seasonal tunes, permeating not just the frenzied malls but also hounding us on our weekly trips to the grocery store? I distinctly remember sales of Christmas decor popping up as soon as the end of September neared, wrestling for space with spooky fare and bite-sized candy as stores initiated the customary grab for our wallets before the first leaves even hit the ground.
As I watch the last colours drift from the trees and savour the spicy aroma of fall, there's a feeling of sadness mingling with the fleeting charm of the autumnal season, a nostalgic farewell to light and nature's abundance as we face the cold, dark days of winter ahead.
And every year there is a longing in many of us that this December holiday will be different from the previous ones. We promise ourselves we won't be dragged into the mass hysteria that seems to afflict everyone around us, that we will spend more time with loved ones, be kinder to others and ourselves and, above all, trade in the madness and trappings of the season for some peaceful contemplation and self-care. Then the eggnog-flavoured Kool-Aid kicks in all around us. We get sucked back into the melee and that inner voice of yearning gets drowned out to the ringing of cash registers and the incessant refrain of Jingle Bells blaring from mall speakers.
There is so much wrapped up in the holiday season for many of us and, as we grow older, more and more baggage tends to accumulate. With the days growing shorter and the darkness taking over more of our waking hours, we feel a vulnerability and closeness to death that likely harkens back to a time in human history, when the cold and gloom of winter was habitually riddled with life-threatening perils - unimaginable to us now with modern conveniences providing a comfortable bufferzone from what lurks out in the cold, dark night. At the same time, as we've insulated ourselves so effectively against nature's seasonal bite, we have also, over time, lost the need to come together as supportive communities during the inhospitable months, progressively cutting ourselves off from each other as a consequence.
Thus, isolation has become one of the major challenges for many, particularly when incessantly bombarded with advertised versions of what a perfect holiday celebration is supposed to look and feel like, exacerbating the loneliness that many are already struggling with long before the dark days hit. And with seasonal disorders adding their own knock-down punch to the bargain, it comes as no surprise that more people frequently say their last farewell during this season than at any other time of the year.
Sadly, my father happened to be one of the holiday's casualties. He passed away, prematurely, around Christmas at the turn of the century, alone in a rundown apartment where his body lay for a full two weeks, before his landlord noticed he was late with the rent. Cause of death could not be determined at the time but there is a succinct possibility that loneliness moved his hand in the end.
Like many people who've lost a loved one during this "most wonderful time of the year", there will inevitably come a spell every December, when I feel a slow wave of sadness wash over me, inexplicable except for the memory of his untimely passing during the holidays. Over the years, I have learned to take a break from the bustle around me and give myself space to remember and mourn him, until that bitter-sweet echo from the past recedes on its own and releases me back into my life.
In a way, this seemingly innate practice of paying our dues to sad events in the past as the days get shorter reflects our mourning over the loss - or temporary death - of light as we approach the winter solstice and, while passing through this transformative period, there is a kind of cleansing that should occur within us, a ritual that finds its seasonal twin in celebrating the return of the light as we head into the New Year.
It is a true shame, then, that rampant consumerism has so insidiously hijacked this season of reflection, offering a myriad of costly distractions as a pseudo-panacea for what ails us this time of year and feeding off our need to reach out and share of ourselves. As we frantically try to fill that lonely void with purchase after purchase of (mostly) useless junk and stress over creating that illusive, picture-perfect Christmas experience, we sabotage the very thing we so deeply yearn for.
As an antidote to this maddening paradox, our family has developed its own traditions - or rather 'coping mechanisms' - over the years, mostly by way of boycotting this economic and environmental insanity. Since the kids are of an age where a Christmas tree has lost its magic, we let go of that ritual easily, using the old tree lights to decorate the front window and replacing the needling pine with a reusable wreath, courtesy of a crafty friend. Taking evening walks through a snowy, seasonally lit neighbourhood always works its charm, often indulging our need for community as well.
Regarding presents, we've given up on surprises, which all too often backfired in the past. Our teens each get a gift or two of their choice (within reason) on the traditional European celebration of Christmas Eve and have a stocking filled with their favourite, cavity-inducing fare for Christmas Day as a nod to the Canadian custom. John and I keep it low key on gifting each other (see "surprises") but partake in the stocking tradition to appease our own sweet-tooth.
Despite the common-sense restraints we've imposed on the holidays, I have to confess there's one affliction I splurge on relentlessly during the Advent season - though I'm inclined to blame it on my heritage.
There appears to be sufficient anecdotal evidence to suggest that German females are born with a specific gene, which lays dormant up until the first snowflakes drift from the skies. As much as we might try to resist this seasonal urge in favour of our waist line, out comes the rolling pin, the tin of cookie cutters gets dug from the back of the cupboard, baking supplies dominate the grocery list and specials on butter and nuts unleash the enthusiastic hoarder. My mother might have been a mediocre cook at the best of times, whose favourite seasonings included a good amount of char, but Christmas baking was serious business during my childhood and I don't recall her ever burning a batch of cookies. This tradition has been passed down from my late grandmother, who could still whip up a an amazing tray of apple-streusel cake in her nineties.
So, towards the end of November, my kitchen turns into a veritable battlefield, with a light dusting of flour covering all surfaces, as I stir, pound, grind, whisk, melt, roll and chop away for two weeks straight, snarling at anyone who dares intrude into my sanctuary and slapping greedy fingers trying to sneak a taste. Samples are judiciously doled out to test each batch which is then stored away till the day, when the kitchen returns to its former communal designation after a good baker's dozen of airtight containers fills the raccoon-proof bin on our back porch (for lack of a cool, indoor space).
In a way, this yearly ritual somewhat resembles a kind of spiritual exorcism, since there appears to be a decidedly therapeutic upside to this manic bake-out.
As the season turns and the scenery succumbs to desolation before the first snow drapes across the land, my kitchen offers an aromatic refuge from the dismal weather, with baking a welcome distraction that lightens my mood and keeps me from getting too deeply affected by the seasonal downturn. And the added benefit is a treasury of treats that doesn't just spare us from purchasing sweets until we fill those stockings for Christmas Day, but also provides plenty of fodder for gift baskets to be dispersed to all those on our "Nice List", a convenient way to avoid the shopping craze.
In the spirit of the approaching season, I'd like to share the benefits of my particular affliction with our esteemed readers and delve into the merry and, at times, challenging world of the German Christmas Backstube with a few of my favourite creations.
I tend to try out a couple of new recipes every season to spice things up, but the following cookie started the ball rolling about 15 years ago and has been at the top of my list ever since. Not just a family favourite, the recipe for this chocolate and icing-covered cake cookie filled with ground nuts and mixed peel has been passed on to fans more than a couple of times. I used to indulge my nostalgic taste buds via its imported version as soon as it hit the grocery stores every year, before realizing I could save money and spread the joy by rolling up my own sleeves.
The following treat belongs to the Lebkuchen family which ranges from cake-like varieties to decorated cookie cutter versions often compared to Gingerbread, though quite dissimilar in taste/texture and a great alternative for those who love the tradition of making Gingerbread creations with their kids, but don't care too much for the flavour/crunch itself. I will cover both ends of the Lebkuchen spectrum that we've enjoyed over the years.
- 4 large eggs (separate yolks from whites)
- 1 cup yellow or white sugar (not brown)
- app. 300 gr. melted milk chocolate (batter & frosting)
- 100 gr. ground hazelnuts
- 100 gr. ground or finely chopped, blanched almonds
- 7 tbsp. roughly chopped, candied orange-lemon peel
- 1 tsp. cinnamon, pinch nutmeg/allspice/cloves
(or Lebkuchen spice mix if available)
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups flour & 1 tsp. baking powder
- icing sugar & liquid flavour of your choice
Oven temperature: 360 degrees F
1. With an electric hand mixer, beat egg yolks and sugar in a large metal bowl until creamy.
2. With a wooden spoon, stir ground almonds, hazelnuts, 150 gr. of melted chocolate and mixed peel into the egg mixture.
3. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form and gently stir into mixture (pull-under method/wooden spoon).
4. Mix flour, spices and baking powder in a separate bowl and slowly stir small amounts into the wet mix until very thick (if your arm hurts, take a break, then back at it; or enlist a strongman in the family).
5. Drop tablespoon-sized, roundish chunks onto a baking paper-lined cookie sheet, leave room for spread between cookies.
6. Bake for appr. 10-15 minutes on the middle rung of the oven with a sheet of aluminum foil on the lower rung to protect the cookie bottoms from burning.
7. Leave cookies to cool on sheet for 5 minutes to harden their bottoms, then carefully remove from baking paper with a thin cookie spatula to keep them intact (easier to spread chocolate over a smooth surface).
8. While still warm, brush tops with icing (not too drippy), decorate with almond slivers or sprinkles (opt.), let dry and cool completely. Then brush bottoms with melted chocolate. You can use a water bath for melting, but I wing it with a small pot on the lowest heat, turning the burner on and off during brushing to prevent the chocolate from drying up in the pot. Start with 3/4 of a bar and add more as needed. (Btw: Chocolate chips tend to be less creamy and melt a tat too thickly, so I get affordable 100 gr. bars of Selection brand Swiss milk chocolate. Don't use bars that have been sitting in your cupboard for a while (months), since they do dry out and clump even if sealed.)
9. Store Lebkuchen in an airtight container in a cool place.
When my kids were young and still clamouring to 'help' with holiday baking, this was the perfect recipe to appease them and it would keep them out of my sanctuary for the rest of the bake-out. Each got a nice-sized chunk of dough to cut out and decorate, at least whatever hadn't found its way into their mouth before hitting the oven. They had their own batch to enjoy, which generally lasted until my 'affliction' had run its course and I'd filled all the requisite gift baskets for friends and family.
- 3/4 cup honey
- 1/2 cup yellow sugar
- 1 heaping tbsp. cocoa powder
- 2 tsp. cinnamon
- pinch nutmeg/allspice/salt
- 1/4 cup butter or margarine
- 3 cups flour & 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 2 fork-beaten eggs
- icing sugar, sprinkles, nuts, food colouring
Oven temperature: 380 degrees F
1. In a large, preferably non-stick, pan stir together honey, sugar, margarine or butter, spices and cocoa powder on low heat until sugar is dissolved and butter melted, forming a thick, liquid mass.
2. Mix flour, baking powder and salt in a large, low bowl (or deep tray), make a well in the middle and add the slightly cooled honey mass and beaten eggs.
3. Stir with a fork, pulling the flour mix into the mass until almost mixed, then finish kneading by hand to a soft, smooth, slightly sticky dough (add more flour to hands if necessary). Cool for 15 min.
4. Roll dough out in small batches on a lightly floured surface to about a 1/2 inch thickness or less (dust dough surface and rolling pin with flour to keep from sticking) and cut out into desired shapes.
5. Place on paper-lined cookie sheet in the middle rung of the oven and protect bottom of pan with aluminum foil on lower rung. Bake for appr. 10-15 min. until bottoms have slightly darkened.
6. Cool and decorate with icing and toppings of your choice (frost the cookies with a brush and sprinkle or, for designs, fill thick icing into a sealable Ziploc baggie with a small exit hole cut into a corner). Let dry and store in a cool place. (Lebkuchen softens nicely if stored in airtight containers for more than a week and the thicker the dough, the softer the cookie after the rest period)
Anyone, who has ever visited an outdoor German Christkindl market, will be familiar with this popular variety in the shape of large, whimsically decorated hearts you can string around your neck, offered at Christmas stalls amidst an abundance of warm candied nuts, fresh-spun cotton candy, soft Magenbrot (another Lebkuchen type), roasted chestnuts and the obligatory spiced Glühwein (mulled wine), served hot to keep off the chill while browsing for handmade, seasonal crafts.
I'm a huge fan of German Christmas Cake (Stollen), which is quite unlike the traditional, often maligned British Fruitcake. Since Stollen is a bit labour-intensive and needs to be prepared at least a month ahead of time to ensure that full flavour and a moist texture develop during the rest period, I was pleased to discover this little treasure on the web. It ties me over conveniently until after Christmas, when the commercial Stollen can be snatched up at half-price, like so many other seasonal goodies. I have added marzipan (almond paste) to the original cookie recipe to imitate my favourite kind of Stollen. (Recipes for homemade marzipan are plentiful and it has many creative uses in the Backstube.)
Christmas Stollen Cookies
- 4 tbsp. finely chopped candied peel (orange/lemon)
- 4 tbsp. chopped raisins
- 2 ounces dark rum or whiskey
- appr. 3 cups flour and 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. vanilla flavour & a good dash of cinnamon
- 1 cup caster sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup soft butter
- marzipan (opt.)
Oven temperature: 350 degrees F
1. Soak raisins and candied peel in liquor overnight and pat dry with paper towel before use.
2. Mix flour, baking powder, vanilla, salt, cinnamon and sugar in a bowl and make a well in the center.
3. Add fork-beaten eggs, candied peel & raisins to center and place butter cut into small chunks along the edges.
4. Mix with fork, then knead by hand to a soft dough and roll into 3 strands about 1 1/2 - 2 inches thick.
5. Flatten strands and run a thin strand of marzipan along the centerline of each, then fold dough over marzipan and roll into a strand again. Chill for 30 minutes.
6. Cut into 1 inch-thick slices, place on papered baking sheet mid-rung with alu foil protection on lower rung and bake for 10 - 15 min. Sprinkle with powdered sugar while warm. Seal and store in a cool place.
Despite the fact that I'm still a good two weeks away from delving into the Backstube, my hands already itch for that rolling pin with the first hint of snow chilling the air. This year, though, I will have to contend with an eager sidekick in the holiday kitchen, since my younger son has discovered a passion for the Culinary Arts and made me promise to initiate him into the family tradition of Christmas baking. His assistance will, most certainly, come in handy when we whip up that first batch of wrist-breaking Lebkuchen batter . . .
In any case, wish us luck and may the Christmas Angel grant this mother the gift of infinite patience.
All the best wishes of the Season to our wonderful contributors and readers near and far.
Stay calm, avoid the malls and enjoy the Journal!
Tranquil (Tanja Rabe)
by Roger Nash
Times of Transition
If the new hasn’t begun,
or the old ended yet,
where do the sentences
we are start or full-stop?
We’re words both borrowed
from the future, lent to the past.
And time stutters fast.
Where Did Our Language Go to?
Call a spade a . . .
catalogue number 134.”
The Newest New Math
Kids in the school for refugees
are taught to do sums
and construct circles, but pencil in
of lines that run out
of both childhood and paper.
The whistle of a train in the night.
Both train and night on time.
The whistle of a sailor on leave,
so tanked up, he can’t tell
train from night from time,
and tries to catch midnight
from the station to his early childhood,
that’s now asleep on Platform 9.
Fretting Over the Impossible
by Mat Del Papa
I know a tween who saved up all her allowance and babysitting money in order to buy something special: an axe. She wasn’t the outdoorsy kind or a budding lumber-jill. No, she was prepping for the ‘Zombie Apocalypse’.
This otherwise smart and capable girl not only believed that zombies were possible but that their civilization-ending arrival was inevitable. Worse, she was convinced that she, all of twelve-years-old, needed to be ready to fight for the survival of humanity.
I, of course, applauded her forethought.
Given the unpredictability of the world and the media saturation of the current zombie craze (movie, TV, music, video games, and comics all push this plot point), it shows a certain practicality for this young woman to plan ahead. She didn’t stop with the axe, either, but readied a complete post-apocalyptic wardrobe, complete with hiking boots, pocketed cargo pants, and a bite-resistant jacket. There was even a backpack ready and waiting, stuffed with various camping supplies ‘liberated’ from her parents, not to mention a ton of granola bars and water bottles.
It was her choice of weapon, however, that showed the most brains. Short-sighted people, when presented with the ‘What would you do?’ scenario, go with guns or samurai swords when preparing to battle zombies. While both are prominently featured on screen - and look ‘cool’ when wielded by the hero(ine) - they have some serious drawbacks in fighting the undead in the 'real world'. Guns are too loud and require appropriate ammunition. A samurai sword is a high maintenance work of art and surprisingly fragile if misused (it takes a lifetime of dedicated training to master).
Unfortunately, this girl bought into the ‘more is more’ philosophy and so ordered a mutant axe capable of doing a hundred different things . . . none well. This abomination came with so many attachments welded on that it became useless as anything but a piece of non-functional art.
The truth is that - even if zombies were real and not the overused villain of lazy screenwriters - living in the North makes us almost immune to those manic chompers. Winter would stop these undead invaders cold. Our climate would literally freeze zombies in their tracks for weeks or months on end. Immobilized, the no-longer-walking dead would be easy prey to all of nature’s many carnivores. Few of these brain-seeking monsters would survive their first extended cold snap . . . at least not whole. Between the weather and predation, not to mention their surviving human prey actively hunting them down, these horror movie tropes would not fare well in the Great White North.
And if you’re wondering how much time I’ve dedicated to this particular thought experiment, the answer is: a worrying amount. Figuring out ways to survive an apocalypse-level event is my happy place. I’ve planned my tactics down to the letter. And for my weapon of choice? I’d carry a solid iron crowbar. Something capable of smashing zombie skulls and popping open doors with equal ease. I just hope I never live to see society crumble . . . at least not any more than it already has.
(The Capreol Express, November 1, 2021)