I remember when the sadness fell over me. I can almost pinpoint the moment when the emotional dagger pierced my skin. I had been the happy-go-lucky kid with a smile that was always painted on my face until that time. And then it ended. Suddenly, and without warning.
I grew up with my mom but as is the case with most split-parent households, I spent time with my dad. Although the majority of my time was spent in the brick house I grew up in, I would visit my dad on weekends and once in a while in between. One day that changed. I moved in with my dad full-time somewhere around age 13. It was different, but it would be fine. I thought.
It wasn’t long after I settled in before the routines I had grown up on disappeared. The daily visits in the kitchen with my mom making dinner were replaced by nightly visits to diners and restaurants and take-out meals in front of the television. I didn’t blame him, it was merely different. Besides, this was the least of my concerns.
Not long after that, I think I was 14, my dad was diagnosed with cancer. A small lesion on his lip, previously thought to be a cold sore, was cancerous. He underwent a biopsy and treatments. One domino fell after another. And things deteriorated faster than the speed of light.
What was a minor scare turned into full blown war on his body. Within a few quick weeks he was in the hospital preparing for surgery and his future was a question mark. This was his new home. One minor surgery followed another. Then the word spread like the cancer. It had moved into his throat and there was no telling what would happen next. They needed to act fast.
I spent my days like a working man back then, although I was just a kid. I would pack my lunch and head to school and run through the front doors as soon as the bell signalling the end of day echoed down the halls. I would head downtown on local transit to sit beside my dad, numb to the world on one drug or another. And I would sit doing homework beside him and stare at his scarred face, ready for battle with eyes wide shut.
I would leave right before visiting hours ended and catch the train and bus home. That bus ride took on a familiar tone. I would fall asleep against the cool metal beneath the window each night and the bus driver would wake me up the same way, “Son, this is your stop.” I would rub my eyes and exit the bus and take that lonely walk home. And I would make myself dinner and fall asleep on the couch.
The cycle continued for weeks. The only solace was the sweet snacks I would pick up to eat with my dinner every night. It was a metaphor for my life at the time, in a way. That sweet dessert or pastry was the one sweet spot I looked forward to and it ended up being my lone sweet disposition in a day full of emotional strife. I was lost in a moment of happiness when I didn’t deserve to be happy.
The battle raged for some time until he faced his biggest obstacle yet and went under the knife for 8 hours. I spent that night at my Uncle’s, somewhat oblivious to the fact that this surgery was different than the others. I was kept away for my own good, as if outside the gates with something important happening beyond my reach.
I was lucky.
My dad survived that battle. I went on visiting him as he tried to communicate with a children’s Etch A Sketch, drawing and writing what he needed. His lips were sealed, literally. But he was alive. For weeks he ate what fluids were hooked up to him. But he survived.
It gives me hope that with the right set of circumstances anything can be beaten. And I always look back to that time and appreciate the small sweet moments we’re afforded. It might be a hug after a bad day, thank you note when you least expect it or something like this Raspberry, Mint and Pistachio Tart. No matter how difficult a situation can be, there is always room for happiness. No guilt required.
How many times do we indulge and feel guilty. Why? It usually puts a smile on our face or soul and takes away the pain, even if it’s just for a minute. That’s not a bad thing, is it? It wasn’t for me. Believe me, I needed it. As silly as it sounds, it kept the light shining when it was darkness all around me.
From my kitchen to yours, happy eating!
Rasperry, Mint & Pistachio Tart
- 1 sheet puff pastry
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 tbsp. granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup creme fraiche
- 3 tbsp. brown sugar
- 2 1/2 cups raspberries
- 2 tbsp. pistachios, finely chopped
- small bunch mint leaves, torn
- 2 tbsp. icing sugar and more for dusting
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a rolling pin, roll out half the puff pastry into a rectangle and trim the edges with a pizza cutter. Place on a parchment sheet-lined baking sheet. Brush the pastry with beaten egg and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Bake the puff pastry for 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven.
- Using a small saucepan, mix half a cup of the raspberries with the icing sugar and simmer until combined. Mash up a bit with the back of a fork. Remove and cool. Meanwhile, mix the creme fraiche and brown sugar until combined.
- Spread the creme fraiche mixture over the puff pastry and drizzle the raspberry sauce over top. Top with the remaining whole raspberries, some torn mint leaves and some crushed pistachios. Dust with icing sugar.
- Serves 4-6.