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The rites of early spring and a tribute to my Dad

The sun is bright and spring is in the air! Finally.

Although food-wise, locally, it’s a ways away – with 2-3ft of snow still in the woods!  

The sap is barely running, at least for artisanal bucket operations like ours that rely on natural flow. (Commercial outfits on big plantations siphon with tubes). However it will go fast with the double digit forecasts on the horizon..

Perfect timing, our annual Wild Maple Menu at Les Jardins Sauvages is underway this week end with a dressed up version of a sugar shack themed menu – Maple mushroom popcorn and soda, Cattail crepes with cretons and pickles, Pea soup with maple sap and maple smoked ham, wild beach peas, reduit poached egg with soba and sea lettuce, Wild boar and cassoulet, Maple scented Mushroom maple desserts etc.. Maple menu photos 

So, I’m prepping for that, while keeping the JeanTalon Market stall supplied with our soups, 'wild' Kombucha and our line of products/preserves. The slow season can be just as busy for me flying solo in the kitchen.. Yup, it’s also time to hire for the season!  To plan and promote our spring menu and May events, workshops and etc. The first greens and fiddleheads kick of the season for us in a mad rush; we have to be ready. It is at the end of April that it typically all starts, then bang in May! when there is the widest variety of wild edibles around here from dandelion and crinkleroot leaf to spring beauty and live-forever for salad, nettle, live-forever, linden and day lily shoots etc, foraging heaven..

But the thing is.. I am having a hard time focusing, ‘feeling it’ and being pro-active – that normal excitement/anticipation for the change of seasons..  It feels far off.  And I don’t feel much like writing about food, let alone updating my decrepid blog.

Because I just lost my Dad.

Even if he was 85, had a full life, was at home with his wife until his stroke, with no chronic illness or medication beyond the likes of Tylenol. Even if he went peacefully with my mom and all of us ten kids around him living tender moments until the end. Even if I know that death is a part of life, and that we are blessed. Everyone has lost a close one or worse. I am grateful to have had him as a Dad, to have my sweet mom and all my wonderful brothers and sisters who are all chips off the old block.

 Dad and baby me 

Nonetheless, I’m sad. I worry about my Mom, and it’s just that Everything reminds me of him. The little wooden bowls and engraved cutting board in my kitchen.  The food..  Peeling potatoes. He loved his ‘spuds’, everyway, but especially baked.

As I make my pea soup and cassoulet, I think of him, how he loved both, his beans. And everything Maple! Every year, he would splurge on maple products to our delight while my Mom scolded him for spending so much money. It was a seasonal treat!

The cloudberry in the pot is soo Dad as he was from Newfoundland and loved his ‘bakeapple’.  So scrumptious with cheese.  We Hintons eat a lot of cheese!

As I make a salad dressing, the anchovies recall childhood memories of him and his sardines, I would dramatically run out of the house pinching my nose and screaming about the stench. Once a week, we had to eat fish and I would kick up a fuss. Now, I appreciate all fish, especially fresh but canned too: anchovies in a Caesar dressing, Puttanesca (see my recipe* below) or Bagna Cauda.. (Recette en français)  If top quality, even straight up on bread with butter -Imagine, Dad!

That said, my Dad was a delicate man with a delicate palate. When I was a young chef, I remember him finding my cooking over-seasoned, but then he came around. Accustomed to traditional ‘English’ fare, he found garlic and pepper spicy! But somehow hot mustard was fine. Later in life, he was fond of hot sauce too. He would taste a dish a bit at a time analytically before making up his mind or giving a compliment, but how he savoured his meals. Always the first to line up at the buffet. Seated at the table before anyone, ever eager for dinner, but not before grace!

It’s hard to not choke up at all the little Dadisms that lurk about, popping up surprisingly as I go about my business. I’m listening to CBC in the background of course like my Dad, and it seems that every show or tune has some connection. I check up on my mead and my cider, he would want a wee drop just to 'wet his whistle'. I figure the choucroute is ready, but I can't quite decide, so I stick it in the fridge wishing I could ask his opinion. Besides my soups, he particularly liked my pies and choucroute (sauercraut)… ‘My, that’s some good’, he would say. 

As winter recedes, the darn raccoons are out, so it’s time to stop leaving the birdseed kicking around and using the outdoors as a freezer.. Such banal day to day things elicit a Dad flash. Amused with my raccoon stories from summer camp (I could not keep the devilish critters from my peanuts and snacks), he gave me a stuffed raccoon, which I found to be a silly gift as a teenager (thinking I was too cool for tou-tous.) But I slept with my Raccoon into adulthood, nibbling on his whiskers when I couldn’t sleep. I still have my Raccoon.

My Dad was so special, you see. He was my prince, my hero. A great Dad and model human bean (who appreciated a good pun). He was so fun, so cool, so wise. Deep. Sweet. Just a good egg.

A man of mind, heart and soul; So ‘up there’ with the gods, yet so ‘down here’ with us.

A man of words and big ideas, between his literature, poetry, philosophy and religion.

But who also appreciated the small things in life and simple pleasures – good ‘grub’, a glass of red wine, cracking nuts, star-gazing, or a picnic on the Plains with some sightseeing and rough and tumble play. He was a lover of nature, of art and history; He enjoyed carving wood and working with his hands, as well as fixing things around the house.   

And music! From the hymns, Scottish melodies and Newfoundland tunes he played on the piano to strumming with Paul and the boys at family gatherings, always a ukulele or guitar in hand.

He was so disciplined and serious, yet so playful. My first and fondest memories of him revolve around fun. He would read us stories on his lap with all the character voices and movement, he was the best storyteller. And the airplane rides, wow!  Or even rides in the snowshovel, or his car, which he called ‘she’. On Sunday afternoons, he would take us for ‘randies’ (car rides through the countryside to pick up apples or corn.) ‘Grocery day’ and ‘Pizza night, traditions like his Christmas crackers’ - he made every little thing so exciting. When I said ‘higher, faster’ on the swing, he was all for it, while Mom had a heart attack.

He was my chauffeur, dropping me off at school with his 'Work hard, have fun!' or 'Be good!'

I was his alpha, and so we fought too, as I grew into a mischievous kid and teenager who challenged him.. He contained my fight and taught me nuance and critical thinking throughout our debates, instilling values like honesty with his disapproval of my profiting from the fact that I looked young to pay less on the city bus or at the movies, say.. He earnestly tried to teach me patience.

He wrote us humorous poems on our birthdays. Besides the words of wisdom and quotes he flung about, He also said the most amusing things: Holy Mackerel! Winkle dinkle donkle! His swearwords more like a poetic exclamation: ‘Blessed Fortune, Night and Day!’

A real gentleman, a stickler for manners, proper grammar and rules, all that stuff you find tedious as a child that you are thankful for later. Yet, a real boy with his love of planes, trains and automobiles, puzzles and mystery stories.  Ready for anything, his pockets were full of trinkets and tools, paper clips and rubber bands. A real charmer, he had a special twinkle in his eye. Deep down, he was a romantic. He loved my mom fiercely and completely until the end. His last wish I know was to make her happy.  He often told me to be kind and take care of my man.

A family photo from their 50th anniversayYou'd think it was Richard & Liz, but no, my young parents

Aimez vous les uns et les autres’. Felix Leclerc

His love and quest for meaning was inclusive not exclusive, which is what made him a tremendous example for conventional religion in the modern world when it frequently gets a bad rap as an answer to our spiritual needs. Because he did it right; he never forced his beliefs on any one. It seemed to be all about interpretation, an exchange of ideas and honing in on the essential. About faith, community, being a better person for the good of all. He spoke of other religions in parallel, and listened to our musings on it all. He once suggested that I was in effect praying to God in expressing myself wholly through my life and vocation, being true and working hard, with mindfulness and meaning, by striving to be a good person. It didn't seem to bother him much that I didn’t go to church or do bible talk. He was a missionary in the sense that he shared moral values, showed by example and that he helped the less fortunate of all stripes.

He was a discrete man of tradition, yet curious and open to the world. It’s amazing how he evolved throughout our lives (no doubt, with us 10 kids as catalysts, but still). In so many ways.. It was heartening and inspiring to see him navigate the changing times. His emails were adorably adorned with emoticons. He loved his meat and potatoes, but his favourite restaurant of late was Les Saveurs de l'Inde on Maguire (Indian). He was acquiring a taste for Kombucha too! And how he softened up with age, hugging us to death.

A quiet man of faith, a teacher and scholar, a Newfoundlander and francophile, a loving and playful father of ten and grampy to 14, all that and so much more..  My Davinci-esque Dad.  And my favourite customer at the restaurant, he loved coming to la table champêtre, wine bag in tow. He claimed he didn’t care much for mushrooms, but he devoured our wild mushroom menu with 35 kinds. Ha!

As I write this, I can’t help but wonder about my punctuation, if I have enough paragraphs… Relentless about correcting our English in a Quebec city sea of French and Franglais, he once chided that I was one big run-on sentence;  ‘strike the enter key, Lass’. My sister Louise is here to correct my English, now.

Back to the grind at Les Jardins Sauvages. He would probably tell me to settle down and get on with it.

I always said that in the dance and race with nature that is our life, how each year, the passage of seasons was thrilling, each time around different, unique and full of surprises - Thanks to the weather, Mother Nature,  the Gods that be and the 'je ne sais quoi'. So true. Who knows if it will be a late spring, when the trout lily, or the first morels will show up..

One thing is for sure, now Maple season and early spring will not only be about sugaring off, snow crab, Easter eggs and planning the green season, but about Dad’s passing and remembering him. Which is fine. Like my Dad, we like our rituals, more meaning in everything with the years, and life is richer for it. With his legacy woven throughout the fabric of our lives, in the heartbeats of my beautiful siblings, nieces and nephews. So much to toast to, right! 

‘C’est grand la mort, c’est plein de vie dedans’ Felix Leclerc

At the funeral home, us kids, Mom and Uncle Maurie

Here’s to the season ahead, and to my Dad, Rev. Donald Macintosh Hinton, Cheers!

Our goodbye words to him at the hospital and funeral were from his beloved Shakespeare, ‘Good night sweet Prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. ‘

Since this is supposed to be a food blog, I will finish with a food story and some cooking tips (as well as a few links to real spring posts about wild edibles below**), after

my entertaining ‘Dad cooks fennel tale’..

One day later in life after the kids had moved out and my mom was starting to do her own thing once and a while or maybe delayed who knows; anyhow my dad saw that it was 5pm and there was nothing happening on the stove, so he made himself dinner ('supper' to him). He got to enjoying cooking on occasion. He would write me about his culinary exploits. He once saw an intriguing looking vegetable at the store and cooked it up, ‘my, ‘twas deeelicious indeed’ (he hadn't a clue what the white bulb that resembled celery but with the aroma of licorice was?!). He bought it again and repeated the exercise only to find it tough and inedible. So, I asked him what he had done. ‘Well, I put it in the oven!’, he replied. ‘Ok Dad, did you add oil, some water or cover it in foil or what?’ ‘No, I just put it in the oven’. ‘But Dad, you can’t just stick a big head of fennel in the oven like that. (like a potato?!) You must have gotten lucky the first time, perhaps because it was a small, young, naturally water gorged fresh specimen, and then you probably used a dish that had sides to provide some steam, or your oven wasn’t too hot or..'  Oh. OMG did I find that hilarious, so cute. And then followed up by giving him instructions for better, more consistent results in the future:

Fennel tips:

  • Cut in wedges and pan-fry in olive oil/butter to color, add garlic, deglaze with white wine and chicken broth, season with salt, pepper, thyme or herbs of choice and optional tomato, and finish in oven covered until tender (30min+)
  • Cut in wedges and pan roast in oven coated in oil and herbs or on BBQ, finishing on lower heat (or covered) until tender
  • Make slaw: Shave thinly and marinate for 30+min with salt, pepper and a sprinkle of cider vinegar/white wine vinegar or lemon. Add a good oil and serve in salad or as a side dish for fish, poultry, pork, meat or in a poke bowl or pasta with parmesan style cheese..


*My Puttanesca Recipe - making 'stinky' fish yummy

(I like to add a wild green like daisy, but any tender green like arugula or baby spinach could be used, or not):

Pasta Puttanesca à la Marguerite

Chef Nancy Hinton, Les Jardins Sauvages

 4 portions

150g                                       spaghettini ou pâtes de choix

30ml (2 cu.à soupe)             huile d’olive

30ml (2 c.a.s.)                       échalotes françaises émincés  (1)

15ml(1 c.a.s.)                        d’ail émincé (2-3 gousses)

20ml (1 grosse c.a.s.)          anchois hachés (4-5)

45ml (3 c.a.s.)                       câpres (et/ou boutons de marguerite marinés)

5ml (1 c.a.t.) ch.                    origan et basilic séchés

2ml (½ c.a.t.)                          flocons piment fort

500ml (2 t)                             tomates en des (2 tomates)

15ml (1 c.a.s.)                       beurre

125ml (1/2 t)                          parmesan râpé

50g (3t)                                   feuilles de marguerite

2ml (1/2 c.a.t.)+                     poivre noir au goût

1ml (1/4 c.a.t)+                      sel au goût


Cuire les pates dans l’eau bouillante jusqu’à ‘aldente’ environ 8min ou 1min de moins que les instructions sur la boite. Égoutter en gardant une partie de l’eau de cuisson. Mettre de coté.

Dans le même chaudron, faire suer les échalotes dans l’huile avec ail, anchois, câpres et épices 1-2 min.. Rajouter les tomates.

Retourner les pates au chaudron avec 1/2t d’eau de cuisson et le beurre et brasser. Fermer le feu.  Ajouter le parmesan et les feuilles de marguerite et brasser. Rajouter un peu plus d’eau de cuisson si nécessaire/si sec. Assaisonnez au gout et servir. Garnir de quelques feuilles fraiches.


Some relevant posts from the archives for my Dad

An ode to my Dad’s Newfoundland, my Hard Tack piece

From 2008, A reflection on ‘God’ that I remember my Dad appreciating if only in that I was contemplating these things. And for the record, I certainly don't believe that praying is bogus, especially now..


**A few real Spring posts (about food/ wild edibles and not death)**

 Late spring edibles and foraging guidelines

Spring pickings

Posted on Wednesday, April 3, 2019 at 12:05AM by Registered CommenterNancy Hinton in , , , , , , , , , | CommentsPost a Comment

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