The last few days, I have been thinking about the privilege of giving. This is a story that came to mind:I was just 22 years old when my husband Jim and I were posted to Moscow in 1978. It was the Brezhnev era and we were nervous about living in a faraway foreign land. But, Jim and I had slogged over Russian language lessons for a year before we left, so we felt somewhat prepared. Of course, that was a long time ago and way before our children arrived on the scene.Our time in the USSR was a great adventure and we made good friends both in the diplomatic corps and within the ‘refuznik’ community of Muscovites (those who had applied to leave Russia, but had been refused an exit visa).Jim and I assumed that Eastern Europe would be our future work focus, but when Nicholas was born with disabilities, those plans were de-railed. In fact, our colleague and friend from our 1970’s Moscow days, Rod Irwin, was later named Canadian Ambassador to the Russian Federation.It was Rod’s wife Penny who introduced me to the remarkable Moscow charity, Maria’s Children. Maria Yeliseyeva is a Moscow artist who has taught painting and textile arts to, over the years, thousands of orphans, including those with disabilities. A few years ago, when Penny and Rod returned to Canada from their time in the Ambassador’s official residence in Moscow, Penny dropped over to give me a gift. It was a quilt. Not a large bedspread type of quilt, but an artwork depicting a Russian countryside winter scene. It was beautiful. It was clearly made with joy, imagination and love, not to mention great skill.Penny told me her story of visiting Maria’s Children and noticing the children with cerebral palsy. She told Maria about our family and about Nicholas. Maria pressed the quilted picture into Penny’s hand, saying “Please take this and give it to your friend in Canada. It will be a great thrill to the children who made it. You see, they have grown up in an orphanage and they have never before given a gift to anyone. This is a great opportunity for them.”I’ve never forgotten those children and their gift to us.At this time of year, that story reminds me of the importance of helping our loved ones to continue their traditions of giving, even if they are infirm, ill or disabled. This year, my Mum has not been well, so I made cheese balls which I wrapped with cards for her special friends and helpers. She is so happy to know that her friends will receive a Christmas gift from her that says not only, “You are one of my favourite people”, but also, “I may need a lot of help these days, but I can still give too! “One of my favourite things to make and give with Nicholas is white chocolate bark candy. It’s become a real tradition in our house and we all love it. It’s so easy, but it looks gorgeous and when it’s presented in clear plastic bags and tied with ribbon, it’s a great gift that everyone is thrilled to receive.So, here’s our recipe for White Chocolate Bark:Ingredients
1 lb (454 g) white chocolate, chopped (We use Baker’s brand)
1 cup (250 mL) dried cranberries
1 cup (250 mL) pistachio nuts, shelled
In bowl (plastic or glass), melt chocolate in microwave according to package directions. Stir in cranberries and pistachios. Pour onto foil-lined baking sheet; using palette knife or rubber spatula spread into 12- x 9- inch (30 x 23 cm) rectangle.
Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or until hardened. Break into pieces.The hardest part of making this recipe is shelling the pistachios. My daughter Natalie loves this job though, and so do I. (We eat quite a few as we’re ‘working’!) It’s just lovely to sit around the table and chat as we’re shelling. Nicholas helps to stir in the cranberries and nuts. Of course, he’s the official taster as well!
I hope everyone in your family has the opportunity to give at this time of year. I would love to hear your stories of enabled giving and please do share your recipes if your gifts are edible!