Saturday, December 15, 2018

Dear Friends

My hands smell like fish.  So do the cuffs of my shirt and--I'm afraid--the apron I was wearing until an hour ago when I finished up making sil for Christmas.

For those of you who haven't got a Swede or two in the family, sil is Swedish pickled herring, and is one of the things I inherited when I married Lee.  He tried to foist lutfisk off on me too, but I rebelled.  That's salt cod reconstituted with lye which is cooked into a gelatinous mess and then covered with a white sauce and ground pepper.

Does that sound awful?  It is, absolutely.   In fact, one recipe for making it is:  1. Buy lutfisk. 2. Throw it out. Needless to say, I was very glad to discover that it was impossible to find when we arrived in Montreal all those years ago.

Sil is a different kettle of fish, literally, but herring to make it is  becoming hard to find here too. It looks like  the herring stock is declining: in both Canada and the US the allowable catch has decreased.  Certainly no retail fishmonger around here has the salted version that you need to make sil.  Luckily there is a wholesale place--National Herring, aka La Boucanerie--located in Montreal who agreed to sell me 40 herring filets.  Picking them up was a lovely intercultural moment since the company is owned by Hassidic Jews, part of their workforce is Muslim, and the office staff is French Canadian--and there I was with my request for a residually Christian foodstuff.   The photo is of herring that I got a few years ago: the National Herring filets have the advantage of being just flesh with  heads and bones  already removed, already to cut up and pop into a delicious pickling stock of vinegar, sugar, dill, allspice, pepper and onions.

So it's beginning to smell a lot like Christmas around here, and I have begun to take stock of the year that is ending.  There are good things to report, thank goodness, that may help counter the existential angst that seems to be hanging over the world in general.

First, some good political news: the Dems took back the House of Representatives.  Now, fellow Canadians, this may not prompt a visceral thing  from you perhaps, but it may keep the world from really going off the deep end.  Don't know for sure, but I certainly did follow that election closely and, as a dual Canadian/US citizen, ended up making a lot of phone calls for seven candidates (all of whom won) that Swing Left had identified as possible swing districts.  Also worked in a local provincial general election: a right wing party won but there is some consolation in the fact that it's not as right wing as the one that took office in Ontario last June.  Our local Québec solidaire  candidate was an intelligent, forthright Muslim woman who proudly wore her hijab in all her campaign photos.  She came in second, which is not that bad considering the riding had been redistricted after the 2016 census to include a very upscale suburb.  And then there's the upcoming by election where another sharp woman, Julia Sanchéz, will be running for the NDP.

On a more personal note, we're all in good health and keeping busy.  Lee has a number of projects going in his basement workshop: the photo is of him, Thomas (age six) and Louis (two and a half the day after the solstice) hard at work making a truck, as designed by Thom.  This afternoon, though Lee is taking a break from his woodworking  to do some wordworking, preparing some documents for Julia: he'll be meeting with her and some other socially aware folk on Friday to talk about pensions, Guaranteed Annual Income, Pharmacare and other hot topics.

This morning Lukas, Sophie and the boys went with us to get Christmas trees at Marché Jean Talon: we've got a rack for the roof of our car that will handle two trees.  They were supposed to put up theirs this afternoon, and tomorrow they'll come over to help us do ours.  Then in the afternoon we'll all head down to La Chapelle de Notre Dame de bon secours in Old Montreal to hear eight-year-old Jeanne sing with her chorale.  (That's her in the photo, first row, second from right, singing with all her heart.)  Elin and Stuart will be there too of course.   And the whole gang will be here at various times over the holiday so we can generally enjoy ourselves. There will be lots of sil, Sophie's delicious mocha cake plus Swedish potato sausage barbecued in the cold by Lukas while  Elin and Stuart take care of details.  I'm told there may also be a good pick-up hockey game in the lane at some point too, thanks to a generous Santa.

With that I'll wish you all a very good 2019, with many pleasant adventures, and much love from and for those around you.


P.S.  You might keep an eye open come October because my new book Fine Lines: The Love/Hate Relationship Between Neighbo(u)ring States will be coming out from the University of Regina Press