When Dave and I first started dating I was surprised to learn that Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving also; though their holiday is a month earlier (on the second Monday in October). I’d always thought of Thanksgiving as a uniquely American holiday, but in fact it is not. The importance of the Thanksgiving meal, however, does vary greatly between the two nations. In Canada, or at least on Vancouver Island, there no displays in stores, no Thanksgiving-themed commercials, no chatter about getting together with family, or trying to figure out long distance travel to get home for this one evening. Instead, all the focus seems to be on Halloween, complete with fireworks. Our cats will not be amused…
With this difference in Autumn celebrations, I feel out of sync with the season. Halloween seems on time, but the fact that Thanksgiving is already over leaves me feeling like I’ve missed out on something important. We had a great Canadian Thanksgiving, and we will be celebrating American Thanksgiving come the end of November, but in the meantime we’re trying to carve out some new Fall traditions and get into sync with our new community. In Nanaimo that means a trip to McNab’s Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch.
The day we went was a little late in the season, since it was after Thanksgiving (Canadian) and most of the really big pumpkins were gone. However, they had tons of small to medium pumpkins, a local school fundraiser with all the homemade baked goods my heart could ask for, and the corn maze was still in full swing. I was already feeling nostalgic for Iowa since a much-missed friend was throwing a fall celebration party with all of our friends, and we had just passed the dates for two of our favorite things to do in Iowa; the Farm Crawl and the Brews and Muse Festival at Peacetree Brewery. Oh, friends, we were sure missing you on those weekends (especially those friends who shall remain nameless but kept sending emails and Facebook comments about the delicious new brews from Peacetree that we were missing out on… trisky hobbits that you are).
So with homesick hearts we went looking for new traditions at the pumpkin patch. I assure you I never thought in my life that I’d say I was homesick for Iowa, but I’m getting sincerely tired of leaving places behind that have become home. In our quest for new traditions to make this place home, McNabb’s did not disappoint.
Even after living in the American Midwest for five years, I had never been to a corn maze. At Farm Crawl there was a corn maze, but I was always more interested in Pierce’s Pumpkin Patch, the borscht served at Coyote Run Farm, and the amazing preserves, people and brew (Peacetree again…) at Blue Gate Farm. So McNab’s was my first time to be in and amongst the corn.
The day was perfectly foggy for an Autumn trip to the pumpkin patch, and we headed off to the maze first. We had a great time trying to get lost, and searching (often fruitlessly) for the little markers hidden in the paths. Apparently the markers haven’t been moved in years so the locals all know where they are, but since we’re new the hunt was still fun. Once the chill of the maze started to get to us, and the enclosed space of the corn from Little Man’s viewpoint started to wear on him, we took the Hay Ride tractor to the pumpkin patch. Here we selected a couple of pumpkins, had them measured and then heaved them back to the tractor, wishing we had brought the stroller to carry our pumpkin booty.
As we got off the tractor at the front of the farm, we ran into some friends from town, and hung around the fire pits chatting. That is the sort of thing you miss when you move often; the regular meeting of friends in public places. Little Man ran around with their kids, visiting the piglets and goats, and climbing massive downed stumps.
When Little Man finally started showing signs of wearing down and needing lunch, we headed off for lunch. We could have stayed there for hot dogs, but the morning was cold and we all wanted some warm, inside rest. So we headed for Coco Café in Cedar. The café’s name is an acronym for the Cedar Opportunities Co-Operative, whose mission is to provide developmentally disabled adults with employment opportunities within their community. This year the maze was dedicated to Coco’s, and I had heard of it before as well. It has the reputation of being a nice little café with cozy atmosphere and good, local food, for good prices. Perfect.
Walking into Coco Café I caught a glimpse of our little family in the glass door; all looking cold, dazed, hungry, and distinctively muddy. Inside I ordered a hot cocoa, and Dave got coffee. Little Man was very pleased with my drink choice, and did his best to polish off my whipped cream before I could get to it myself. Dave had a Thai Curried Chicken Panini with a green side salad. Little Man had the grilled cheese on an awesome whole wheat bread; and I had a massive bowl of Beef and Barley soup complete with a good-sized hunk of warm Pumpernickel, rich with molasses. Dave’s Panini was great, and we were both impressed with the salad. After our time in the Midwest we had come to loath side salads since inevitably they were tasteless piles of wilted, ice berg lettuce buried under a mound of not-cheese. At Coco Cafe even the side salads were great. Not a hint of iceberg lettuce to be seen, but only dark, lovely salad greens with a homemade vinaigrette. Little Man liked his sandwich, but preferred my cocoa; and my soup was divine. It was full of great vegetables, barley and beef, the broth was rich and stew-like with a good amount of black pepper. This soup was a perfect example of why homemade soup is so much better than the stuff from a can. All in all we had a great, home style lunch that did not break the bank, and which warmed us up from our stomachs to our fingers and toes.
On the way back home, Dave struggled to keep Little Man awake so that he could take a nice long nap at home. Little Man, for his part, did his best to hide behind his Pooh Bear and fall asleep. In the end we all had great naps, and ever since I’ve been fixated on hot beverages. I want drinks that I can hold in a real mug, not paper or factory made, but something made by real hands, something that fits nicely between my palms, and warms me from the fingers on out. And that brings me to my family’s Wassle; a hot mulled cider that fills the home and the heart with the aroma of the holidays.
This recipe for wassle comes from my dad’s side of the family, and just a whiff of this simmering away in the slow cooker makes me think of “family.” I don’t mean “family” in the sense of just the three of us, but of gatherings of loved ones, whether or not you are biologically related, where you can just relax and be at home. In fact, it’s worth making this wassle just for the aroma.
When Dave and I first made this wassle for our friends-who-became-family in upstate New York, their first comment was “mmmm… this is good…” followed quickly by asking if we’d ever tried this with rum. We hadn’t. We did. It was delicious. But I have to say, this wassle is amazing on its own and doesn’t need any accoutrement. What sets it apart from other mulled ciders I’ve tried is the mixture of apple cider with pineapple, orange and apricot nectars. Cardamom and cinnamon round out the spiciness of the hot, hot drink, and are key to its aroma. There is no added sugar, the juices are sweet enough as it is. So if you’re having friends/family over and want that scent of the holidays that will stop them in their tracks the minute they set foot in your home, this is the wassle for you. The only problem will be getting them to leave later, since it’s so nice to just sit with loved ones while cradling a mug of this wassle in your hands.
Wassle (A Hot Mulled Cider)
4 cups apple cider
4 cups unsweetened pineapple juice
1 ½ cup apricot nectar
1 cup orange juice
6 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp. whole green cardamom
- Pour all juices into your slow cooker and turn it on to high.
- Place the cardamom pods on your cutting board and crush them with the back of a spoon or flat of a knife. Alternatively, crush the pods in a mortar and pestle (I just can’t find mine since the move…)
- Add the cinnamon and crushed cardamom to the slow cooker.
- Cover and heat until pipping hot, then turn the slow cooker down to low and simmer the wassle for 25 minutes. Enjoy!
- Optional: float a new cinnamon stick in each mug.
Click here for a printable version of the Wassle recipe.