This week’s letter comes from our long-time family friend and babysitter, the writer and photographer Jessie Hannah. It’s critical to have someone like Jessie around over the years, to love our kids when we’ve had enough, to listen to our stories with fresh ears and to remember the sweet moments we were too tired to file away. She’s part of our extended family now, one bound by meals, memories and lobster-filled birthdays in May (and lobster salad sandwiches the next day).
Jamie – brother-in-law
Lee – sister
James – husband
We were all making room in the Florida condo for thirteen of us to have dinner. I was setting up a makeshift table in the bedroom for the kids. Jamie & James were on dinner, Lindsay and Lee setting the table for dinner. If there is one thing Lindsay & Lee can do, it’s create a cozy place for a meal out of any space at all.
It was ten years ago, a May vacation in Florida. Me, babysitter Jessie, with the whole crew of kids, having just celebrated my 25th birthday. Rex, still a baby, practically lived in his brightly coloured super suit, a onesie swimsuit. Luke was the only of the five kids who could swim and Charlie had just announced “Look!” and with excitement, and held out a very dehydrated dead lizard.
I’ve never been much of a meat eater. I simply didn’t like it. When I first started babysitting for Lindsay, I would clear out with the kids so she could finish working on “Vegetables,” her latest cookbook. The timing was perfect, as I became the vegetarian recipe tester.
In Florida, lamb was on the menu. I had never had lamb before, and Lindsay assured me we could put together a veggie plate. “Nope! You have to try it” responded Jamie, who handed me my plate of lamb and sides. Kids in the bedroom, Charlie begging for “lambsicles,” we sat down and tucked in. It was A-MA-ZING. The lamb was cooked rare, seasoned perfectly and paired with a delightful salsa verde. To this day, it’s the best meal I’ve ever had. It turns out, I do enjoy meat. I had just never had meat prepared the way I like it.
Since the Florida trip, I have called to request a Jimmy’s famous chicken dinner to wind down after a stressful week. I’ve learned to love sous vide ribs and that an amazing seaside meal can consist of wings with a sprig of parsley as a side. I’ve been collected, crying, to be consoled, reassured with life lessons sewn into stories, with a side of bolognaise. The Florida dream team members have become integral to my life.
Food has also become a big part of my life. It’s developed naturally from the seeds Lindsay sewed. I’ve learned to cook well, triggering my Hungarian genes that declare “thou must feed others.” But, until the pandemic, I have never enjoyed cooking for myself.
Though I have had moments of stress during the pandemic, I feel ashamed to admit that my quality of life has improved, mostly because of food. With more time and no room for excuses, I have begun to cook. In a text to Lindsay I wrote, “I took ingredients and put them together into a meal. That I cooked. For myself. What is happening?”
The catalyst: good ingredients. I have shifted my purchasing power: to avoid grocery stores, I order ‘direct from farm’ for weekend safe distance pick-up. I have locally grown greens delivered. I purchase olive oil and the essentials from the European Deli around the corner. Whereas I had no love for the grocery-store leek, wilting in my fridge, the leek acquired directly from the farm in the valley, I feel connected to. And so, I’ve been cooking, including trying my hand at preparing meat. I made ribs, cottage pie and lamb. Building myself intentionally into the food system has completely changed how I feel about what I am putting into my body.
For my 35th birthday, I wanted to feed those who are always feeding me. A friend’s father is a lobster fisherman in Little Harbour. Her whole family has worked to help her dad fish over the years, her mother counting 15000 steps the other day as she moved around the small boat from the gaff, pulling up the buoy and hauling the traps in; Empty the lobster, change the bait, band their claws, repeat, as her dad steers the boat and does the same on the other side. I ordered the lobster and her dad delivered them to her husband, who delivered them to me. I cooked them, facing the challenges I have with cooking meat. My friend’s dad recommends a large handful of sea salt in the pot of water, and dunking the lobster’s head into the boiling water before submerging completely. After cooking the lobster, I delivered them to those who would join my online birthday dinner. From ocean to table, the entire chain of food was personalized.
Gathering via a screen, now-teen boys rough-housing, adults laughing at Rex’s term “panjamas” which has replaced the super suit, we prep for a Zoom birthday dinner. In ten years we have gone from sunny Florida, to a chilly May day in Nova Scotia. But beyond that, just as I have found my place in a changing food system, knowing where I belong, I have found my place in this big family, filled with love, life lessons and laughter as we gather, no matter what the circumstances, to come together for a meal.
Lobster Salad Sandwiches
Friends, families and communities are divided over what should be included in a lobster salad sandwich. I like to keep it uncomplicated: a toasted hotdog bun, like my grandmother preferred, with a simple lobster salad, much like a chicken salad, where the lobster meat shines. I’ve added flavour and texture in the form of greens and fresh herbs, and a chopped avocado, because I had a perfect one, asking to be eaten. Thanks to Jessie Hannah for providing enough lobsters for leftovers!
3 cups (300g) cooked lobster meat, chopped into bite-sized pieces
¼ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup celery chopped celery
Good pinch sea salt
several twists of cracked black pepper
Small handful of any fresh herbs you have on hand – chives, parsley, dill, tarragon…
handful of mixed greens
1 avocado, halved, pitted and chopped into bite-sized pieces
4 hotdog buns
Combine salad ingredients in a bowl. Heat a fry pan (or better yet a BBQ) over medium heat and toast both sides of the hotdog buns.
Divide salad between buns and serve.