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CUISINE: A smooth summerA tale of almond joy
It had been her grandmother’s idea.
While Amanda had planned to work at Tim Hortons for the summer, taking doughnut orders, making sandwiches or wearing a headset in the drive-thru window, her interview hadn’t gone well.
Instead of answering that she liked to work with people and was good at handling difficult situations with a variety of personalities, she had said she was really only interested in the free Iced Capps at the end of shifts.
It had been a joke, but she was the only who’d thought so.
Instead, Amanda got a part-time summer job at a nursing home, where her grandmother had been a nurse for a thousand years or so.
“Can’t you do something so I can at least work in the kitchen?” Amanda had asked when she’d been assigned to housekeeping.
“Nobody starts in the kitchen,” her grandmother said.
She had also given Amanda a bunch of advice, including, “Never take anything the old ducks try to give you.”
On her first day, Amanda had spent the first hour being trained on the giant floor waxer that was so strong, and had such a will of its own, that is was like trying to walk a moose.
Next, she was shown how to clean a resident’s room.
She was then left to work alone for the next while.
At first, she nervously hop-scotched from room to room, trying to get in and out with her trolley of dusters and disinfectants whenever she spotted a resident leaving to visit with family in the common area.
Or, when they went outside to push their walkers or wheel their wheelchairs through the garden walkway that extended around the property.
Amanda simply didn’t know what to say.
“Welcome to Tim Hortons. May I take your order,” had seemed so much easier.
So, when Mrs. Schmidt in Room 13B, who had been sleeping when Amanda crept in and began to dust, suddenly said, “You look like you’ve had a long day, sweetie. Why don’t you sit down for a few minutes?” — Amanda sat.
For the next hour, she listened to stories like none she had ever heard.
Sure, she had learned about the Second World War in social studies.
But, there were more recent wars — and that one seemed forever ago.
“My mother and I once shook Herr Hitler’s hand,” Mrs. Schmidt said.
“That was before the war started. I always remember he was such a polite man that day. Later, though, we were running for our lives, along with others.”
Amanda looked at Mrs. Schmidt’s shrunken form under the blanket and tried to imagine.
“OK. Enough for today,” the older woman said. “Be sure to have an almond before you go.”
It was then that Amanda remembered her grandmother’s advice.
But, it was just an almond.
She didn’t even like almonds and it seemed disrespectful to say no to such a small offering.
Amanda took an almond from a dish on the bedside table, popped it in her mouth, then left to punch her time card.
The next day, and every day after, Amanda punched her card before going into Mrs. Schmidt’s room.
And, every day, she listened to stories.
And, every day, she took an almond.
It wasn’t until nearly the end of summer, when Amanda would be going back to school, that she finally worked up her nerve and said: “I don’t really like almonds, you know. I come for the stories.”
Mrs. Schmidt smiled.
“It’s OK, sweetie. I don’t like almonds, either. I just suck the honey coating off and give the nuts away.”
Darcie Friesen Hossack is a food columnist and author of Mennonites Don’t Dance, shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize (first book, Canada and Caribbean) and Danuta Gleed Award runner-up. firstname.lastname@example.org
2 cups whole natural almonds
1/4 cup honey
2 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. smoked paprika
3/4 cup raw cane sugar
Spread almonds in a shallow pan.
Place in cold oven; turn oven to 350 F and roast 12 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until aroma is warm and nutty.
Over medium heat in medium pot, heat honey and butter to boiling.
Reduce heat to medium low, simmer two minutes, stirring occasionally.
Stir in almonds until coated. Stir in paprika, then simmer, stirring for two minutes.
Transfer almonds to baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Spread in single layer to cool only slightly. Place raw cane sugar in a large bowl, then immediately add the still-very-warm almonds.
Thoroughly toss and stir almonds until all the sugar has coated the almonds, and the almonds no longer stick together (much).
Stir occasionally as they cool completely.