The Sisterhood of Nana’s Travelling Sweater

Do you remember the first time you travelled? The people you were with? What you did? This is a story about that. It’s also a story about the power of threes. Three years old, three trips to London, three sisters… and a sweater. 

When I was three, my older sister and I travelled with our parents and Nana and Papa to London, England. I am not sure why and I really don’t remember much because a three year old’s brain is still developing. What I do remember is that three events occurred: one rather insignificant, one mentally damaging and one that I still love and protect to this day.

The first thing I remember is that we stayed in a hotel with a Murphy bed. I had never seen a bed fold up into a wall and completely disappear. All the bedding and everything just vanished. I was totally enamoured, a bit like Charlie Chaplin in the scene where he too encounters one for the first time. In my case, I highly doubt I had a top hat and cigarette and OK, perhaps there was a little less drama. I thought it was the most ingenious thing I had ever seen in my whole short life.

charliechaplinmurphy[Source: DesignSponge.com]

Our parents room was down the hall from Nana and Papa. My sister and I took turns sleeping between either Nana and Papa, or our parents. Oddly enough, I don’t remember my turns sleeping between Mummy and Daddy. That’s because Nana snored. Who could forget? So did Papa but his breathing was always like a whisper in comparison.

 

selfridges-visitors-day-poster[Source: Selfridge’s Edwardian poster]

It was also on this trip that I got lost in the department store, Selfridges. 1975 was a much different world when it came to missing children. Come to think of it, I am not so sure the alert protocol for missing children was the safest back in the 70’s. Thank goodness for the Amber Alerts we have today. Somehow I wandered away from my parents and ended up in the hands of customer service. I think I might have cried but truthfully, I can’t remember such micro details. What I do remember is that the nice lady gave me a sweetie, put me on her lap, and announced over the PA system:

“Would the parents of a little girl, with dark, curly hair, please come to the customer service desk”.

To this day, I have a phobia about getting lost. If I am out with someone, doesn’t matter where, and realize even for a split moment that I am on my own, a mysterious illogical panic consumes me and I franticly start looking around, pacing my head left and right, as if I am a silly chicken trying to cross a busy street. It is only when I find who I am looking for that I feel safe. I guess it is a mental scar I carry with me to this day.

The third memory to come from this trip is that Nana bought herself a black cashmere sweater. I could be wrong but if I had to make an educated guess, I would say she would have bought it either from Selfridges, possibly even on the same day I got lost, or perhaps from Marks & Spencer, her all time favourite store. Even back in the 70’s, cashmere would have been an indulgence. Nana was not one for indulgences. Like her, I myself am not one for labels.

fullsizeoutput_1376

The label in Nana’s black cashmere cardigan. 2016.

On closer inspection, I see that the cardigan is made by Pringle. Not to be confused with the chips, I Google it and discover that it is Pringle of Scotland. Their history spans 200 plus years and as I read their story, these words stick with me:

Pringle received its Royal Warrant in 1956 awarded by Her Majesty the Queen. One of the most treasured notes in the brand archives is a note from Clarence House from the Dresser to Her Majesty the Queen Mother simply requesting ‘New Cardigan Please.’

I always thought that Nana had something regal about her. See for yourself.

fullsizeoutput_1385

Nana and Papa in 1969

Nana bought the cardigan as a staple for her travels. Practical. Simple and beautiful. Nana and Papa used to travel quite a bit. Mostly to London and Canada, where she was able to get lots of wear of this beloved sweater. The temperature in Barbados never required the need for such a luxury. That’s because the average year round daytime high of 30°C / 86°F temperature means sweaters are not everyday attire. Queen, or no Queen.

I would travel back to London two more times. The second visit, when I got my ears pierced at the same Selfridges. This time I stuck close to my parents. The last visit was when I turned 13 and my sister and I went with our parents on a trip to Europe. It was on this trip that we were old enough to borrow Nana’s cardigan for the first time. Mum had ordered us only to pack shorts and the one pair of pants for the plane. Europe was sure to be hot in July. That’s what she said. Well Europe ain’t no Barbados. We were so cold that we each lived in our one pair of pants and both begged to take turns wearing the sweater.

Then when my oldest sister left for Toronto to go to art college, naturally she begged Nana to take the cardigan with her. You must understand that Nana did not like to part with her things easily. But for some unknown reason, she agreed. As I joined my sister in Toronto, the sweater became a coveted piece again. We took turns wearing it and loved it so much that one side of the label became unstitched. It’s where you see the safety pin. It’s been there and replaced several times with different sized pins over the last 25 years.

When our younger sister came to Canada to study, she naturally became the next in tow. Not intentionally, mind you. The cardigan travelled to her when I was busy having children in succession. No time for cardigans. Or showers. Or fashion. Life was a blur. Not for my little sister, ten years my junior. It was her turn to get love and wear out of Nana’s sweater. So much so that I forgot she had it.

Then a couple years ago, my little sister and her husband made the decision to return to Barbados. On a visit, I was sitting on her bed while she was going through her closet to decide what she would take back with her. That’s when I noticed it. Sure she would not need this in 30°C? I casually commented on this fact. She said nothing and kept it in her closet.

When the time came for our goodbyes, we did our best to keep the emotions to a minimum in front of our children. I attempted to be the stoic, brave older sister. My sister then casually handed me a gift bag with some tissue paper in it. As I pulled the tissue away, there was Nana’s cardigan.

  *   *   *    *

At the current moment, Nana’s cardigan is carefully folded in tissue paper and stored in a box under our bed. It is not a Murphy bed but I sure do love it and the story behind it. Part of me wants to leave the safety pin, a reminder of its travels. Call it for safety reasons. The other part of me wants to get it repaired because I am sure Nana would have wanted that. I did take the pin out of it after finding out just how expensive a Pringle sweater is.

As I started working on this story, my husband bought me my very own black cashmere cardigan for Christmas. He got it from The Bay. Now I can wear my own cardigan as often as I like and still protect Nana’s legacy. It’s in my nature to be protective. Our two daughters are already nipping at each other’s heels. Like Nana, I don’t like to part with things easily either. When the time is right, maybe I should let my daughters take the new cardigan instead.  Or I could surrender Nana’s cardigan to continue on its travels. I simply have not decided yet.

The Sisterhood by loopylocks

Between my two lovely sisters (neither of whom snore, to the best of my knowledge). Barbados. January 2006. [Photo credit: Andrew Hulsmeier]

Advertisements

‘Simple’ Bajan Rum Punch

img_4706

You do not have to come from an island, nor visit one, to be able to make rum punch. Anyone can make it, including my Canadian husband. It’s not rocket science: it’s a simple ratio. 1 of sour, 2 of sweet, 3 of strong, 4 of weak. The challenge lies in the fact that not everyone can make a ‘proper’ rum punch as we would say back home. The fact that my husband can is our little joke since I am the one from Barbados. Sure I can squeeze limes and make simple syrup but I let him take care of the mixology. I just love drinking them. Call me an islan’ girl.

Now there are many theories on what makes a for a great rum punch. I have been told that  my Jamaican grandfather, Papa, used to peel the skin off all the tiny local limes before squeezing them to avoid any sharp limey aftertaste. He would also hide vodka in it for an extra punch. My younger sister likes to freeze her mixed rum punch in a large empty pop bottle to make it into a slush before serving. It’s tart and delicious. My older sister has a different simple syrup recipe. I know another Bajan who believes you should make it with brown sugar, preferably from Barbados. Not so easy to find off the rock. I know a few clever Bajans, who feel that the ‘weak’ just means ice. This is similar to my husband who believes all you need is 1 of sour, 2 of sweet, 3 of strong, forget the weak. Regardless of the recipe you believe in, it is common ground that you have to drink this on the rocks. To be clear, not the rocks in the picture with my limes.

This recipe is inspired by my Jamaican cousin who makes up a batch of just the sour and sweet mix to keep in the fridge. It lasts a long time unless you are having a party or are sitting on a dock at a cottage.

proper bajan rum punch by loopylocks

‘simple’ bajan rum punch by loopylocks

If you are reading this and have connections to a different island, I know you have your own set of rules for making your own punches. That’s cool. Listen, a Bajan Rum Punch would not be the same without some Trini bitters and I will be the first to admit it. Having said that, I am not of the inclination that anyone should make a rum punch by adding anything like grenadine syrup, orange juice or pineapple juice. No disrespect. It’s just, well, not a proper Bajan Rum Punch. This drink is way too basic for that. The only concession I will make is if you decide to replace the weak (i.e. water) with coconut water. While it may be a sin for some, it makes for a sinfully smooth cocktail.

“Simple Bajan Rum Punch” by loopylocks
Makes a big batch to cheer a crowd*

Ingredients:

Part 1 – make the lime juice mixer
12-15 fresh limes, squeezed with the pulp
2 cups granulated white sugar dissolved in 2 cups water (simple syrup)

Part 2 – diy your own simple bajan rum punch with
dark rum
lime juice mixer
water (or coconut water)
fresh grated nutmeg
a few splashes of Angostura Bitters
ice (lots and lots of it)

* If you do not wish to make quite this much, read through the recipe and adjust to suit. Since the drink is based on a ratio, you can make any amount that your liver can handle. 

Directions:

part 1 – make the lime juice mixer

Please, I beg you… only use fresh limes. Nothing else. No matter how hard you would like to, you simply cannot make rum punch with artificial lime juice. It does not matter if the bottle has the word “real” anywhere on the label. Trust me I have tried. I once experimented using real, organic, cold-pressed, lime juice, not from concentrate, that I picked up from my local grocery store in Toronto. The label made perfect sense. The taste? Not so proper.

Since you need to go get the limes from a store, I reckon a dozen is a good place to begin. Any extras can be used as a garnish. Mine pictured here are from Mexico. Sure they could be Bajan. But you know what, they are good enough. I was able to get 1 1/4 cups of lime juice.

The sweet comes from simple syrup. Sounds simple because it is. As this is a DIY cocktail, your best is to make your own. Store bought simple syrup has a sweeter, thicker consistency. I personally find it a bit too sweet. I prefer white sugar even though you can make it with brown sugar. Most brown sugars today basically just have molasses added to them. They are no more natural or pure. Just coloured. Adding colour comes later, with the bitters.

How much to make? It depends. I always decide how much simple syrup to make after I have squeezed and measured the lime juice. I needed 2 1/2 cups of simple syrup to the 1 1/4 cups of lime juice. I elected to make 2 cups of sugar to 2 cups of water. That made 3 1/2 cups of simple syrup. The extra syrup I put up for another time. Not a problem. It keeps well in the fridge.

Microwave method (I used for less cleanup): Cook time – 2  1/2 minutes. In a glass jug, heat the mixture on HIGH for 1 minute. Stir with a fork. Heat again for another minute. Stir again. Heat for 30 seconds. Stir. (depending on your microwave you may need more or less time). As long as your solution is free of granules and clear then you are good to go.

Stovetop method: In a small pot, over medium, heat the sugar water solution just long enough until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. This only take a few minutes. Stir until dissolved and remove from the heat immediately to cool.

This part is important. Simple syrup must be cool before adding to the lime juice or it can make the limes taste bitter. Been there. Done that. To quicken the process you can put it in the fridge. Use a funnel and combine the lime juice with the simple syrup into a jug that can be stored in the fridge. Remember to always shake this before using as the sweetness settles and while you won’t notice it in the beginning, when you get to the bottom of the bottle, you will notice your rum punch is not as tart as you remember. I like these inexpensive KORKEN glass bottles from IKEA that are under $4:

fullsizeoutput_1300

lime juice mixer

part 2 –diy your own simple bajan rum punch

If you do not put the rum in rum punch, all you get is limeade once you add water. Delicious on a hot summer day for you and your kids but definitely not the liquid gold I am trying to teach you about.

Everyone has a favourite rum. First things first. We are talking about dark rum. Not the clear rubbing alcohol white rum that no one should ever drink. Ever. I will also never ever endorse the use of Bacardi rum. Just saying. If you are not on an island reading this, say Canada, to make this easy, see what your local liquor store has to offer. I personally like Mount Gay Extra Old. I know it is pricier but you pay for quality. If I was in Barbados, I might use a less expensive rum like Old Brigand, or Cockspur’s Old Gold Special Reserve. The choice is yours. El Dorado makes a cheaper rum that is sold in Canada if you want to experiment. If you cheat and settle for a mediocre rum, that’s ok too. You will have made yourself a mediocre rum punch. Your call. And listen, after a few, they all taste good!

And what of the weak? Water and ice. Sometimes we switch out the water for coconut water. When in Barbados, there is nothing quite like it.

fullsizeoutput_1326

Fresh coconut water being harvested by ‘Anthony’. Barbados. 2009.

However, if you are not on the rock, buy only a good quality brand. It makes the rum punch super smooth. The key is that it has to be natural and unsweetened.

Every rum punch needs nutmeg and bitters. Not everyone can find fresh nutmeg so if you need to use the pre-grated nutmeg, it will be OK. Not proper. But again, good enough. You cannot skimp on bitters though. I find it ironic that even though it is loaded with over 45% alcohol, most supermarkets carry it in Toronto as opposed to the LCBO. Same aisle as the soft drinks at the end where you find specialty drinks, mixers and non-alcoholic beverages. It’s under $10. It also stains terribly so be easy when adding to drinks and wipe spills asap. It gives the rum punch that gorgeous amber colour I was telling you about instead of using brown sugar. Has quite a history of herbal healing. So does rum punch… makes your heart feel extra sweet and special.

And here is the part you have been so patiently waiting for. But before we get there, let me just confess that I have always been terrible at maths. That’s why my husband makes this drink. He explained that since you already put the 1 part sour and 2 parts sweet together, you now have 3 parts. The same 3 parts as the strong that the drink requires. So from this point in the mixology cycle, we are talking about and even (1:1) ratio between the sour/sweet concoction to the strong rum. The remaining room in your glass will dictate the  water you will end up using. It ends up being roughly a trio of 1:1:1. True to those clever Bajans I mentioned earlier, I happen to agree that some of the weak should come from the ice.

Without further ado

  1. In an 8 ounce rocks glass, fill to the brim with ice.
  2. Add 4-6 shakes of the bitters and freshly grated nutmeg.
  3. Add 1 1/4 ounces of dark rum.
  4. Pour 1 1/4 ounces of the lime juice mixer. (Shake lime mix first).
  5. Add 1 1/4 ounces water until you get to just under the top of the glass. Stir well.

I personally prefer a standard rocks glass. Part of the enjoyment of this drink is in the vessel. To each his/her own. You quickly learn that you can make a strong or “weak one” based on how much water you add. Stir well and taste it. If it tastes watery, add either a splash more of the lime juice mixer or rum or both.

a proper bajan rum punch

‘simple’ bajan rum punch by loopylocks

And there you have it. Who needs dinner when you can have this? Best served in pairs. I wish I could add a slice of lime but I used it all to make the lime juice mixer. Note to self for next time.  Sorry it isn’t more fancy but like I said, it is a pretty basic drink. The key to simple living. Cheers!

Is your glass of sprinkles* half empty or half full?

This post is a little bit simplistic. Certainly not my finest.  I know. It started because of some delightful paintings my sister has been doing of Bajan bus stops. Also simple. And beautiful. Then it got me thinking about transportation in Toronto and somehow I ended up with sprinkles. Random I know.  A bit Forrest Gump. Again I’m sorry. I have good intentions too.

I have always thought of myself as a little bit of a pessimist, a worrier, a hypochondriac. And yes, a little bit ‘OCD’ if you read my last story about Nana and Dettol. Recently, however, I have been trying my best to change those little voices in my head and pivot just enough to think about my own neurosis. Right now, my best is this jar of sprinkles*.

But first, I know on the surface it appears rather basic, but let’s think about Barbados for a minute. Life is pretty simple in Barbados. Does not matter if you live there, or if you are a visitor. Now I am not suggesting that everything in Barbados is perfect. Far from. The saying: no such thing as paradise has always been true. Several issues plague the island of a political, economic and environmental nature. Way too deep for the scope of my blog because let’s be honest, you cannot really talk about sprinkles* and politics without wanting to throw the (*insert profanity) jar. Let’s just say that I am trying to share a KISS with you. Keep It Simple Silly. And for the record, I think the original saying includes the word stupid but I really do not like that word. And that is about as negative as I want to be today. But the KISS message I believe in. And sprinkles*.

Take a simple example like transportation in Barbados. To this very day, there are only two types of bus stops. One says: To City. The other says: Out of City.

fullsizeoutput_12d9

[Artist credit: My beautiful sister, Erica Carter]

Pretty profound when you really stop and think about it. If you ain’t coming, you’re going. You choose. There’s always a choice.

When I was 19 I moved to Toronto to study. It is where I live today. I also love Toronto. A choice I made. Transportation is slightly different. Alright, a lot different. Streetcars, buses, subways, trains. There are shortcomings in Toronto as well. It works. But yes it could be better. Take the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission). If you are a rider you will not need an explanation. If you are not, however, the best way I can describe it is like looking into that jar of sprinkles*. That’s a whole lot of people standing very close to each other in a single jar. Unlike a jar of sprinkles*, however, being on the subway is not so pretty when you are the sprinkle at the bottom of the jar and your station is pulling up. It is not easy to get on or off the subway in rush hour. I have stood closer to people on the subway than I have ever stood beside my own husband. There is no such thing as the ability to respect another person’s space. Because there is no space. Look at those sprinkles*. Not a lot of wiggle room, is there?

But this is also a city where you can use a free App like Rocket Man to find out not only the location of your preferred bus stop, but the Arrival Time of the next bus and each time to follow should you be running late. You can even select the Bus Location and see the cutest little red and white cartoon bus on a map and watch it move closer to your stop.

We are a family that is often running late. I chalk it up to “island time”. Each morning when my teenagers are just about ready to leave, they say to me as they hustle to pack up their bags, books, jackets, lunch, TTC tickets:

“When is the next bus coming?”

And just like that, I grab my phone and make the transformation. I literally turn into a visionary with superhero-like (*insert profanity) powers. Call me Rocket Woman. Sorry folks, I checked already, there is no App for that. Rachel, take note of the idea before it finds another host. Anyways, the App gives me wisdom beyond my wildest imagination. To the nearest minute, at least.

It works too. Could be better. A whole lot better. I am not going to lie. But we can’t have everything we want, even if we pay taxes. So maybe there is another way to look at it. Like the saying, the glass is either half empty, or half full. Add the word “sprinkles” to your state of mind. Either way you look at it, the glass is beautiful.

*sprinkles has many different names… way too many to share: ‘hundreds and thousands’ if you are from the UK, New Zealand or Australia. ‘hagelslag’ or ‘muisjes’ if you are from the Netherlands (Dutch translation: “little mice”). How cute is that? ‘nonpareils’ if you are from France. ‘chispitas’ if you are from Spain. Or good old ‘jimmies’ if you are from some parts of the US. Doesn’t matter where you live. Life is beautiful if you are willing to stop and take a closer look.

img_1867