Every year around this time households in Ontario (and elsewhere in Canada, I believe), either through their local daily paper or other means, receive a copy of The Milk Calendar. Apparently this started back in 1974 but I only became conscious of it in the ’90s. Kathy and I had moved to Oxford, UK, in September of 1994 with little more than one suitcase each. We had a flat in the draughty, cinder-block, married-student accommodations in north Oxford. We didn’t know anyone, and we really aren’t predisposed to meeting and making new friends (though despite ourselves we did eventually discover the very best of friends). Dreary November and December days stumbled toward the holiday season. But with no funds for travel home or onward we knew we would be left to our own devices.
It must have been some time in December that the package arrived. A well-labelled and multi-stamped box from Kathy’s parents. The shipping label declared, unceremoniously, an itemized list of the “Christmas gifts” contained therein. Nothing grand, but we were so grateful to receive this bundle of cares and well-wishes. There may have been tears. It turned out, however, that the greatest gift was not in fact identified on the shipping label. Perhaps including it had been an afterthought. I’ve never asked. There amidst the crumbled newsprint used as packing material lay The Milk Calendar for 1995.
I’m sure we still have that calendar, though the recipes (yes, recipes!) it contained have long since been transferred to other media. What makes The Milk Calendar distinctive is that it always contains a set of recipes (at least one for each month) for dishes or desserts that are easy to make, taste great, and, naturally, involve milk somewhere in the instructions. What they don’t mention is how those recipes can transport you across time and space. In that slender calendar was the essence, or so we thought that winter, of Canada.
I don’t recall now how many of those recipes from the 1995 calendar we actually used more than once. But I’m fairly certain we did try each one at least once. I remember writing letters to Kathy’s mum to tell her about them (those were the days before email was ubiquitous). Each one a reminder of how that calendar helped us beat off the damp chill of the English winter.
The Milk Calendar for 2011 arrived today. I can’t help wondering whether any Canadians far from home will be opening a package in a few weeks and discover within that things aren’t nearly so dreary as they imagined. I hope so.