Winter is dancing on display outside. The blustery winds shifts the snow from one side of the property to the other, greeting me at my knees on the mornings following a snowfall. The city machines have been working overtime for the first time this year, plowing and spraying salt in all directions behind them. Like a domino of activity, people up and down the street are bundled up and shovelling their driveway. This is the reaction to winter’s presence.
I’ve been attuned to her for as long as I can remember. Mainly because of my father. Estranged father.
Although our relationship deteriorated many years ago, I still recollect. Especially when the snow comes calling. He lived fixated on the weather channel, always trying to stay one step ahead of the patterns. Planning his life around the forecasts, going to work when most people would rather be home. Safe. It was gruelling at times. He never complained. He played the hand he was dealt.
My father didn’t finish high school. Junior high either. Back then that wasn’t an abnormality. Finishing high school was an achievement to some, leaving early an option for others. His father died when he was a toddler, forcing his hand and circumstance. He left to take a job to help out. Grew up much too soon. And without an education it limited his options. Laid out in front of him, he was left with little choice. Blue collar was his fitting tag. He wore it proudly.
He took to seasonal jobs before starting his own business. Young and without other necessary skills, he worked harder than most. He was backed into a corner. In the winter he took on contracts to remove snow. First by hand and eventually with a plow and helper. It was tireless and mostly thankless. Once the snow fell, he had to head out. Whether it was in the afternoon or the middle of the night. And if the snow roared on for days, he had to keep going. Tired, sick and worn through. It didn’t stop him. He went in cycles, sleeping only to recharge for a couple of hours here and there. And then back out to the storm. No end in sight. Sometimes he was out for days. Straight.
I thought he was crazy. But it was admirable.
If I had an event that saw me out-of-town or tied up for a weekend, he paid particular attention to the long term forecast. Most people check the forecast to plan their days and wardrobe. He checked it to plan his life. And mine back then. If it looked bad enough, someone else would have to take me with them and he’d miss out. Even if he didn’t want that. I came to understand his absence at hockey tournaments. It wasn’t his prerogative. Never was.
When I was entered high school I tried to help. When I could. I figured I was old enough. On weekends I would head out in the middle of the night and help him. It was hard work and rewarding work. The sooner I helped him finish, the sooner he could come home. I was often tired and sore, but I didn’t let on. Just worked harder. Kept up. I wanted him to be proud. I was. So we shared stories on the drive from one place to another, passing the time in the still cold night.
He always kept clementines in the truck for me. They were easy to peel and I could get at them quickly. They were always on hand during the winter, in the crate in the fridge and on the floor in the truck. They would slide back and forth as the truck made turns on the slippery roads. Ever since then I’ve placed them hand in hand. Winter and my dad and those little orange jewels. He would stop for coffee and I would have my clementines. Our fuel.
Winter brought many things to my life as a kid. Some good things, some not. It meant a basket of clementines always filled and it meant less time with my dad. Mainly when it snowed, and it always seemed to snow back then. I can still hear the sound of the engine, humming to stay on as the cold evening air threatened to shut it down. I can see his winter jacket ripple as the frigid air pushed against it. And I can hear the sound of the shovel brushing against the concrete of the front steps at every stop we made. Those were the days. The only ones I care to remember with him.
My father and I didn’t see eye to eye as I got older. The relationship eventually severed when I hit university. Time and space grew wider. It’s been a long time since I heard his voice, saw his face. I’m okay with that. Some of my memories from those days aren’t fond, but they’re honest. And real. But the days when it really snows, like today, I remember a hard working man. Doing his best. Doing all he could with what he had. And I’m good with that. We never did without.
Winter is dancing around the streets outside my window right now. I can hear the trucks making their rounds in the neighbourhood. The lights on the streets are turning off, one by one. Tucked away inside, warm and safe. The few cars left outside slide through the roads. This is the reaction of winters presence. This is my memory flooding back. Years removed, but never forgotten.
From my kitchen to yours,
Upside Down Clementine Cakes
- Butter, for greasing
- brown sugar, for base
- 4 clementines, sliced into thin rounds (1 per spot, total 12)
- 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup self-raising flour
- 1 cup almond meal
- 2 clementines, juiced through a fine sieve and zested
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
For The Syrup:
- 2 clementines juiced through a fine sieve
- 1/2 cup superfine sugar
- 3 tbsp. maple syrup
- Preheat the oven to 325F degrees.
- Using a medium mixing bowl and electric mixer, whisk the eggs and sugar for 8 minutes. Sift the flour and fold in. Fold in the butter, almond meal, clementine juice and zest and cinnamon. Keep folding until fully combined.
- Butter twelve small muffin basins. Sprinkle half a teaspoon of brown sugar into each basin. Place a thin clementine round (minus the rind) into each basin.
- Divide the mixture among the basins until 2/3 full. Place on a baking sheet in the oven for 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
- Meanwhile, start on the syrup. Put the clementine juice, superfine sugar and maple syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and bring to a boil until the consistency is a thick syrup.
- Remove the cakes from the oven and let cool for five minutes. Turn out on to a wire rack. Drizzle the tops of each cake with some of the syrup and let it soak in for a few minutes.
- Serves 12 small cakes.
(adapted from two recipes: Donna Hay’s Orange & Vanilla Upside Down Cake and Delicious Magazine’s Sticky Clementine Steamed Puddings)