Photo courtesy of Davina Choy Credits: Photo courtesy of Davina Choy
When writer Shana Gray's marriage ended, she thought she'd never find love again. Then, a weeklong foray into the world of online dating renewed her faith in romance—and herself.
"I'm leaving you tonight. I won't be there when you get home."
After 22 years of building a home and a family together, those were the only words Shana Gray's husband, Tim*, had left for her. His announcement—delivered by phone call while Shana was at work—came three weeks after she'd discovered he was having an affair with a mutual friend. "I had expected to be with him for the rest of my life," she says.
After Tim moved out in April 2003, Shana was ridden with insecurity. "I remember thinking that, if my ex didn't want me after 22 years, how could anyone else ever want me?" She was afraid to trust a new man after the horror stories she'd heard from her police officer ex-husband, and it didn't help matters when she watched a TV show about male stalkers one drunken night with her girlfriends. Maybe I'll just be single for the rest of my life, she thought.
Shana had been single for 18 months when one of her friends suggested she sign up for a dating site; the friend had found love online and thought Shana could do the same. But she was skeptical. At the time, there was still a stigma surrounding online dating, and Shana assumed most men trolling for women on the web were "scuzzbags." She finally agreed to log on—for a one-week trial.
Then, on Day 2, Steve* found her. Like in a cheesy '90s rom-com, his profile was titled "Looking for Ms. Right." His bio made him seem "down-to-earth and honest," so they struck up a conversation, moving quickly from chatting on the website to hour-long phone calls each evening at 10. Shana felt like she'd known him for ages.
When it came time to meet in person, they decided to grab a coffee at the mall. They had never seen pictures of each other, and Shana was scared Steve might not be physically attracted to her. "I'm a curvy girl," she says. She also had her friends on alert in case he was a creep. But when the couple embraced, there was an instant connection—and they've been together ever since.
In hindsight, Shana, now 55, realized the end of her marriage was the best thing that ever happened to her, as it made way for Steve to enter her life. A far better match for her, he's also much more supportive of her writing. She wrote and published her first novella in 2010 and has since authored several romance novels under the pen name Shana Gray. "Steve felt that I needed to have an outlet," she says. "He'd tell me, ‘You've got to follow your heart. You've got to do what you love.' "
*Names have been changed.
Sure, the main dish may get all of the glory, but your holiday feast is only as good as its sidekicks. Here are 20 of our favourite festive side dishes to round out your special meals.
Stovetop space is often limited when preparing big meals, so avoid the crunch and make this classic creamy side in your slow cooker, instead! Bacon makes this dish extra-indulgent, but you can easily omit it if you prefer to keep it vegetarian.
The combination of a creamy potato filling and cheesy breadcrumb crust makes this recipe one of our favourites. Gruyère cheese is notoriously strong-smelling, but it mellows nicely as it melts.
While it may look similar to broccoli, rapini has a distinct and assertive taste that many find bitter. Here, we’ve tossed the green with a sweet and savoury dressing, sweet yellow beans and nutty toasted almonds for a perfectly balanced blend of flavours.
Roasting the garlic takes some time, but it’s well worth the reward. The tender, golden cloves give a deep caramelized flavour to the dish, which pairs nicely with the sweet and peppery turnips that are mixed into the mash.
Sweet potato casserole is a must on holiday tables in the United States, but the traditional marshmallow-topped side doesn’t always have the same appeal here in Canada. For our Canadian twist on this dish, we’ve swapped out the marshmallows for a crunchy pecan and brown sugar streusel that’s the perfect balance of sweet and savoury.
A mix of fresh and frozen peas gives this bright dish the best texture. If fresh sugar snaps aren’t available, simply double the frozen peas or substitute with broccoli or green beans, instead. The three-ingredient garlic butter is a great condiment to have on hand—simply toss with hot pasta or gnocchi and steamed veggies and you’ve got a meal in minutes!
This creamy dish is a cross between decadent creamed spinach and lighter slaw, making it a crowd-pleasing side to satisfy many palates. To make this vegetarian-friendly, simply use vegetable broth.
Toasted walnuts, tangy blue cheese and crisp kohlrabi converge in this simple autumn salad. A slightly spicy, creamy dressing is the perfect balance to the peppery arugula.
Adding Parmesan cheese to stuffing might seem unconventional, but it helps to keep this dish moist and gives it a nice crisp crust. Oyster mushrooms are an elegant addition, but you can easily use inexpensive cremini mushrooms if you prefer.
This rice-based dish is a great gluten-free alternative to traditional bread stuffing. Tossing sliced shallots with cornstarch before frying makes them extra-crispy, making for a delightfully crunchy topping.
Artichokes may seem intimidating, but they’re actually quite simple to prepare. To prep them, first cut off the sharp tips of the leaves, then slice off the top of the artichoke to remove the fuzzy centre. Simmering in water loosens the remaining tough leaves, making them a cinch to pull off. It’s best to do this work a day ahead so that all you have to do the day of the meal is make the topping and roast the artichokes until crispy. The show-stopping end result is well worth the effort.
Goat cheese lends extra creaminess and a hint of tangy flavour to classic garlicky mashed potatoes. Heating the drained potatoes for a minute cooks off any excess liquid, which yields the fluffiest mash.
The trick to giving this simple side dish a company-worthy look is all in the way you slice the carrots. Rather than cutting them in standard coins or sticks, we’ve sliced them on the diagonal to add a hint of drama to your holiday spread.
Delicate oyster mushrooms add easy elegance to this simple sautéed spinach dish, which takes only 20 minutes to make!
The secret to these crispy roasted potatoes is a dual cooking method—you simmer them first, then finish them off in the oven with goose, duck or beef fat. Look for the fat in the gourmet section of major supermarkets or in specialty markets, or simply reserve the drippings from cooking duck, goose or beef.
No holiday meal would be complete without a heaping dish of mashed potatoes, and this one, with its delicious blend of fluffy russets and colourful sweet potatoes, is sure to fit the bill.
Endive can be bitter when eaten raw, but roasting the leafy vegetable mellows the flavour and brings out its sweetness. An herbaceous and zesty dressing adds a welcome hit of freshness. Be sure to rinse the leeks well after halving them, as sand and grit can hide within its layers.
Flavour-packed capers are an effortless way to punch up the flavour of any side, and they work especially well with mild roasted cauliflower. If you find capers to be overly salty, simply give them a rinse before using.
Tender, sweet acorn squash and crisp bacon add extra appeal to Brussels sprouts. For even cooking, trim the thick bottom end of the sprouts, remove the outer leaves and halve them lengthwise so they’re about the same size as the squash cubes.
Spicy, aromatic infused oil adds unforgettable flavour to pepper (a.k.a. acorn) squash, especially when finished with a squeeze of lime juice. Make the oil up to five days ahead so you can prepare this dish in just 30 minutes.
Go on, have another slice of pumpkin pie.
There are few things better than a great big Thanksgiving feast shared with family and friends. If you choose your outfit wisely, you're free to indulge without worrying about rigid waistbands or fitted dresses holding you back.
We've got outfit ideas that will keep you comfy and stylish, no matter how you celebrate this totally indulgent holiday.
A cozy Thanksgiving with your immediate family
Not all families have large gatherings around the holidays. Maybe you're cooking a turkey breast (or tofurky) instead of the whole bird, or maybe there's no dinner at all and you'll spend the evening watching movies on the couch. If you're planning something small with just your partner, or your parents, or your kids, keep your outfit simple. We love the idea of an oversized shirt dress (bonus points for season-appropriate tartan), topped with a maxi cardigan. Flat, menswear-inspired shoes and sparkly socks keep this look from being too casual—you still want to look nice, after all.
Thanksgiving at the cottage
Whether you're going with only a few people, or your entire family, Thanksgiving at the cottage has something going for it other than the scenery—the very casual dress code. We recommend a stretchy, long-sleeve top paired with boyfriend jeans (the baggier, the better) and a roomy turtleneck sweater (the one shown below is actually a vest). Finish off the look with simple (waterproof) boots, just in case you decide to walk off that second serving of mashed potatoes after dinner.
The big family affair
If you're attending a fam jam with all of your relatives, you need to look on point—especially if someone in the group is an amateur photographer. There will be pictures. And you will be tagged on Facebook. We recommend opting for roomy trousers (a drawstring helps) in a stylish fabric like velvet, which also happens to be extremely comfortable. Pair with a long, roomy sweater in a flattering colour (this eggplant works with all skin tones) and sparkly accessories. For shoes, try a comfortable ankle boot with a trendy western-inspired twist.
If you're having a friends-only Thanksgiving event, we recommend playing with texture for added interest in your oversized ensemble. Keep it comfy with an A-line blouse (the one shown is in classic denim) and faux-leather leggings, which are both fancy and comfortable. Top it off with your favourite blanket scarf or poncho and some cool boots. This outfit will keep you covered, whether you indulge in drinks, turkey or cake—or all of the above.