Homemade Irish Cream

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Homemade Irish Cream - The Wholesome Handbook
Last Christmas was one for the books. I wasn’t working much, so all of my energy went into indulging my every holiday whim. I wove boughs of evergreen through the bookshelves. I wrapped gifts in cheesecloth and velvet ribbon. I crafted an advent calendar full of daily festive activities. I made a multi-course Christmas Eve dinner for two that took me days to plan and put together — roasted whole duck rubbed with spices, fingerling potatoes and purple carrots fried in duck fat, fluffy rolls from scratch, steamed oysters, traditional butter tarts. I’m not gonna lie. It was pretty fantastic.

This Christmas is more than a little different. There’s a disturbing lack of snow on the ground, I’m up to my nose with wonderful clients and exciting projects, our Christmas tree is… imperfect (in a fetching, Charlie Brownish sort of way!), and I’m not even close to being done with my shopping. But I took a little time over the weekend to whip up some homemade Irish cream, and let me tell you, this stuff makes me feel like Bing Crosby himself is about to rise from the grave and serenade Eartha Kitt and I with old Christmas standards while we lounge on a fur rug in front of a roaring fireplace in a haunted chateau nestled in the French alps.

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You are a Storyteller


The Wholesome Handbook - Whitespace Writers

I was a storyteller before I knew I was a storyteller.

When I was a girl, I had a CD of cheesy Celtic traditionals that I’d play while trying to fall asleep. When I wasn’t on my belly on the carpet, reading by the beam of light from the space at the bottom of the door, I’d lay in the dark, dreaming up detailed stories in my head to go with the music – foxes in their burrows, epic sword battles between rival warrior princesses, the last harrowing days of Atlantis, packs of wolves on the hunt, a couple locked in the throes of passion.

I didn’t even think writing these stories down was an option. They were just fantasies, distractions. Besides, I was a competitive singer, and spent my days inhabiting other, better stories. In the space of one hour, I could be a woman hopelessly waiting for her seafaring husband to come home, an elderly cat mourning the loss of her youth and beauty, and Evita Peron begging Argentina not to cry for her.

The one time I did dip my toes into writing my honest thoughts and experiences down, my junior high language arts teacher took one read-through and immediately suggested to my parents that I seek counselling. That shut me up pretty quickly.

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Season of the Witch



Season of the Witch - The Wholesome Handbook

Witch. Even the word itself is slippery and wild-eyed, delicious, dressed up all in black.

Witches are bad, bad girls. They’re ill-behaved, impure, messy, full of life. Witches are women who stand out, who are different. They’re the ones that make you a little uneasy and draw you in at the same time. They’re the original nonconformists, either because they can’t help it, or because they don’t care.

For ages, women who stick out have been ridiculed, ruined, tortured, raped, and murdered for being different. For making people uncomfortable. For being too old, or too wealthy, or too wise. For being sexual, for loving other women, for having children out of wedlock. For being too beautiful, or for being too ugly. For possessing unsanctioned knowledge. For being too ambitious, for speaking their minds. For challenging the status quo.

The witch is a woman who doesn’t answer to anyone. The witch is someone who lives outside of the polite rules of society. The witch is someone who knows she won’t find answers in a doctrine or an ideology – she has all of the answers inside of herself, in her heart, in her intuition. She prioritizes that knowledge. She trusts herself.

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Elegy for a Tree

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The Wholesome Handbook - Elegy for a Tree

All day, the buzzing of a chainsaw.

Outside the window, there was a man in the box of a white bucket truck, wearing a fluorescent orange vest with silver reflectors down the shoulders and slim alien-eye sunglasses. The man was hoisted up into the sky, and he was slicing the branches off of the grand old tree next door. One by one, they fell to the ground in a sickening whoosh, early autumn leaves and sawdust erupting into the air on impact, like confetti from a cannon.

The little blue house next door, home of the tree, has been empty for a whole year. The last tenants had a ratty old hammock that they strung up between the branches of that tree. Jackrabbits would nap between the roots. The neighbourhood cats, illegally outdoors, would watch with hunter’s anxiety as the squirrels darted up and around the trunk, chattering incessantly about whatever squirrels talk about. Crows would gather on the branches, noble and noisy, surveying the alleyway below.

The sky looks naked now. The light in my living room is different.

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Travelogue // Seven States


The Wholesome Handbook - Seven States
Roadside America is weird and wonderful. The interstates are lined with billboards, some with ominous, sun-faded Bible verses, some with breasty neon silhouettes promising an audience with the Best Girls in the West. Gore flung across the highway lines, porcupines and whitetail deer and fat little raccoons with their human hands. Teenage hitchhikers with big dogs and hulking backpacks, farmboys rumbling along in tractors, grizzled truckers hanging suntanned forearms out of the driver’s side window. All-night diners and gas stations with burned, weak coffee. Every little settlement has a dubious claim to fame – the world’s largest cabbage, a 1973 mothman sighting, a defunct nuclear research site. And every place has a distinct set of unspoken rules, it seems, rules that only the locals know.

We only had seven days. Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Montana. We didn’t mind. The Road, of course, is at the heart of the concept of a Road Trip, and there’s no better way to see a country, I think, than to explore the places between the places.

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The Poetry & Power of Rituals

The Wholesome Handbook

Stalking the wildlife…

If there’s one big takeaway from my academic years, it’s that ritual is a powerful thing.

Of course, we see the word ‘ritual’ and we think of a clutch of grubby Iron Age Danes heaving some poor hanged man into the peat bog to sate the bloodlust of the gods. We think of Stonehenge, of Olmec knives in chalcedony, of the Greeks with Hestia’s eternal flame. But our modern lives are still steeped in ritual.

We have rituals marking our major life events. We declare our romantic partnerships with white dresses, a sacred first kiss, a feast. What are stagette parties but modern bacchanals? A baby is born, and we all flock to see it and ceremoniously bestow knitted blankets and stuffed pink rabbits, one by one. A loved one dies, and our mourning is marked with gatherings, speeches, recitations from holy books. We retire from our jobs and are sent off with offerings of gold and cake.

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I’m Not Special, and That’s Okay.


This last birthday, my 28th, was rough.

That beautiful June day, I woke up at five in an anxious sweat, pulled on a sweater, climbed the hill, and watched the sun rise over the city. And although I knew that I should be relishing the wet dew of the morning, the apricot light glinting from the face of the Bow, and the fact that I managed to make it another year without pitching my life into total disaster, I sat on that hill and I cried and cried and cried.

I remember joking as a teenager that I’d never live past 27, because what was the point? All the greats die young, and I was certain I was meant to be great. On that hill, tear-stained and panicking, all the nasty little voices that like to hang out in my head repeated it again. My life is over. I wasted it. I’m used up. I missed all my chances.

I went back to bed. And I spent the entire day there, sleeping, thinking, and mourning. I mourned what I saw as a wasted youth. I mourned my ‘deteriorating’ looks. I mourned my worth as a human being – turns out that being cognizant of the fact that women are socialized to understand that our societal value (read: our fuckability) plummets after 20 doesn’t mean you’re immune to feeling like crap about it. I felt shoved off of a throne I didn’t even know I sat upon. I mourned opportunity. I mourned wonder.

Birthdays used to feel like a new opportunity, every new age a new identity to try out. Now they’re just terrifying. I used to laugh at women who dreaded getting older, chalking it up to vanity and frivolousness. Now I get it. I do.

When you’re young, you feel like you’re going to be young forever. And then one day, you’re not.

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Shepherd’s Lunch // Fresh Ricotta


The Wholesome Handbook - Fresh Ricotta

Ricotta is an optimistic cheese, a bucolic one, wet and springy and feminine. It’s a cheese you eat with olive oil or honeycomb on a hillside in the sun. It’s a poor man’s cheese, a country bumpkin cheese, a dish for shepherds and milkmaids and ploughmen.

The ancestors of ricotta date back to the bronze age, but the modern iteration is a lovechild born a thousand years ago in Sicily, when the island was under Arabic rule. Ricotta is gold wrung from wastewater – traditionally made from leftover sheep’s cheese whey, a literal peasant’s portion, an ingenuity born of necessity. The wealthy caught on eventually and claimed it for themselves, as they do, and ricotta’s current culinary rep is much more bijou than it perhaps deserves. Ricotta is, at the heart of it, wholesome countryside food, easy to make, easier to eat.

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Eat Your Heart Out // Steamed Artichokes


Steamed Spring Artichokes - The Wholesome Handbook

The first artichoke was a woman.

A Greek beauty with fuzzy eyebrows and long black hair, heavy and slick with olive oil. The kind of woman who bathed naked in the ocean froth and loved to feel the grit of wet sand between her toes, the kind of woman who swam in thunderstorms and baked herself to a burnished copper on black rocks in the sun. The kind of woman with many lovers and many daughters. The kind of woman who loved, more than anything, to laugh.

Her name was Cynara.

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Travelogue // Abbotsford, British Columbia


Travelogue - Abbotsford - The Wholesome Handbook

Driving from Alberta to B.C. for a weekend visit with Andrew’s grandparents was like leaping forward in time. As we weaved around and over the Rockies on Highway 1 and the Coquihalla, the world shifted from a humble, budding brown to a raucous, lush eruption of green.

B.C. is a land of plenty. It’s crowded with dense hills and heavy clouds, and you can smell the ocean salt in the air. After 10 car-bound hours of podcasts, coffee, and rain, the eldest Reists welcomed us with their legendary Strawberry Birthday Cake, studded with saran-wrapped loonies, and we chatted long into the night.

Our first morning, we breakfasted on homemade raisin bread and blackberry preserves picked from the cemetery bushes across the street – does anyone feed us better than our grandparents? Afterwards, I managed to drag the boys out to the gloriously muddy Bloom Tulip Festival, and had to fight every one of my instincts to just lay down in the muck and roll around like a happy piglet. Spring makes me a little wild, but then again, I suppose it does that to all of us – Beltane has its reputation for a reason, after all.

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