These are the most important things in your home, my grandfather used to say.
We have a bright red front door and a big kitchen table, but our bed was the pits. So with my grandfather in mind, last month we bought a new one. After a few weeks I can report that the mattress is as hard as a cutting board. In fact, I feel like those oranges lying on that board, perched, with no give below. What would Marshall do? He’d find a way to take it back, I know it. His sparkly blue eyes would have helped.
My grandfather, Marshall Brownlee, was a handsome man, a salesman, a United Commercial Traveller. Over the years he sold cars, Wrigley’s gum, copper pots and later chef’s knives. The knives were made by Grohmann, a family owned company from Pictou, Nova Scotia. He built himself a special case to carry the chef knives around on his sales calls, taking the case to every restaurant, hotel and cooking school in the area. He sold lots of knives; his personality and pride in his product was as strong as his door decorating skills…
When I was a kid, he and his wife lived in a nondescript apartment building not far from us. I remember the building was brown, and the hallway was brown too. But his apartment door during the holidays? It sparkled. At Christmas time he wrapped the whole thing up like a gift, complete with shiny paper and a big velvet bow. It said, come inside, we’ve been waiting for you!
Although he insisted a welcoming front door, a big kitchen table and a good bed were the secrets to happiness, I’d like to add a good set of knives to that list. I know he’d agree. My grandfather died when I was sixteen, but his chef’s knives and his love of food are what I remember most about him. And, his bright blue eyes.
I share the story behind my set of well-loved Grohmann knives (and wove in a favourite winter salad) in At Home on the North Shore, a seasonal publication here in Nova Scotia. The salad is full of roasted fennel, juicy oranges, olives and salty feta. I used my pairing knife to segment the oranges, my chef’s knife to chop the fennel and the flat side of the knife to squash the olives to remove the pits. A salad that is refreshing and full of flavour, a perfect contrast to warm wintry food.
You can find the recipe for my Roasted Fennel Salad with Orange, Olives and a Hint of Spice here.
Now, go and decorate your front door.
PS – remember last year when Christmas smelled like Cinnamon and Stress? I’ve broken the cycle and made cinnamon rolls in advance. They’re in the freezer. It’s a Christmas miracle.