Did you know that’s what “Mardi Gras” meant? Yup, the name was pretty straight-forward; the day before Ash Wednesday is traditionally the last day to binge on all the rich foods and other excesses you would be giving up for Lent. It is a day to consider in what areas of our life we might need to improve, and how better to do that than over a great meal? While I am not a member of a congregation that takes on this traditional belief, I don’t mind the opportunity to enjoy the fun of it.
I’m going out for pancakes to celebrate Fat Tuesday. This is such a traditional food for the day that some call it Pancake Tuesday. In England, there is a town that has even held a pancake race since 1445! It’s in honour of a parishioner who apparently lost track of time and ran out her door with her pan of pancakes in her hand when the church bell rang to signal the service starting. Today contestants dress up like housewives in aprons and kerchiefs, and must carry their pan (complete with pancake) over a 415 yard course through town. They even have to flip their pancake at the start and finish of the race!
In Iceland, my heritage on my father’s side of the family, the day is called “Sprengidagur”, which translates as Bursting Day (don’t you love the sense of humour?) Salted meat and peas were the traditional fare, but I think I would have preferred Icelandic pancakes, Ponnokukur.
Despite my lightheartedness at describing these activities, my aim is not to belittle the serious religious custom that is at the core of Shrove Tuesday. “Shrove” is the past tense of the English verb shrive which was to obtain absolution for one’s sins through confession. Your last chance to be shriven was on Shrove Tuesday, as Lent begins the next day and penance would start. Similarly, Carnival (spelt in various ways in different languages) comes from the Latin carne levare, meaning to take away meat, a common practice during Lent. The festivities of Carnival – dressing up, dancing, indulging in rich foods and other decadent pastimes – were other ways of celebrating the excess before Lent. The masquerade, where people covered their identities with a mask, was said to sometimes offer a chance for lovers to be together in public. This is perhaps the culmination of all things excessive, and is a famous part of the Carnevale in Venice, Italy.
Rich foods like donuts and pancakes have been customary on this day as they were a good way to use many of the rich foods in the pantry before Lent began, like eggs and milk and sugar. It strikes me that the rich foods of winter start to become less popular about this time of year even in secular circles, so even those without religious background can look upon this day as an opportunity to reflect on the coming of the lighter and often healthier fare of spring and summer.
Whatever you do in the coming weeks, as the year edges on and spring comes ever closer, I hope you will have a chance to reflect on how you can make the most of it and how you can enjoy your blessings. I think that might be the simple truth of this ancient holiday.
Martin and I spent a couple of days in Vancouver last week, catching up on our foodie fix and thoroughly enjoying a concert – we got to see Sting and Paul Simon on stage together. (Remember, I did say I like to make the most of life in general!) I thought I would share some of our highlights.
We stopped at IKEA on the way into town – a great stop for any foodie who wants to be funky without breaking the bank. Serving dishes and linens for entertaining, nifty Swedish condiments like lingonberry jam to jazz up Sunday dinner, and candles of all shapes and sizes are there for the taking. Oh, and if you have kids, they have hot dogs for less than $1 and a play room. So now you have no excuse
Staying downtown was important if we were to cover as much ground as possible in a short visit. We found a boutique hotel that was central, but without parking with in Vancouver is a real hassle so I would recommend one of the larger places that offers on-site parking if you drive to Vancouver.
I used Trip Advisor to give us some suggestions as to funky places. Checking the reviews and filtering the complaints with a grain of salt is a good way to give us a short list, I find. Then we discuss what we feel like and we head out! The first night we chose a place called Twisted Fork Bistro, and although the usually great Trip Advisor Guide app gave us totally wrong directions we managed to find it before the rain got too heavy (it’s on Granville Street, NOT on Robson as the app says, if you’re looking).
My feet hurt by the time we arrived, but it turned out to be worth the effort. If you like mussels, you have to visit this cozy little long bar. If you want small servings or sharing plates, it’s a fantastic choice. If you like wine, they offer BC wines on their list, and they have a fun choice called “just a glass” for a great price. The serving staff will tell you about what is featured that night, and even if you go for a name choice the prices are competitive and the choices excellent. We also shared a “roo loin” – yes, I will eat adventurous food. It was delicious with the balsamic glaze, sauteed green onions and watermelon cubes. The watermelon was also inspired with the Bacon Brussel Sprouts we ordered! Mussels are served with frites piled over top, in a cream sauce. It was like a continental French poutine – decadent for sure.
The good thing about appetizer portions is that it tends to leave you more room for dessert. The chef here is a pastry chef so don’t miss out if you can help out. We had the chocolate terrine, but all the choices sounded delectable.
The next morning we headed for Granville Island Market, the place we used to meet for breakfast when we were first dating. Saturday morning donuts, fresh fruit and coffee is a family tradition for us. Lee’s Donuts and JJ Bean Coffee didn’t disappoint. Donuts just glazed and still warm, and some of the finest roasted beans I have ever tasted made me feel like I could take on the world!
Shopping for dinner is the other fun activity at the market, and there are many offerings for every taste. We like Seigel’s Bagels (Martin is from Montreal; need I say more?), and Benton Brothers Fine Cheese (try the Abondance from France – it’s divine! They will help with wine pairings too, if you like). Choose your veggies ruthlessly, and ask the experts to help you with seafood and meat – they love the compliment and you won’t regret it. If you just want pâté or cured meats, check out Oyama Sausage Co. – they have it all. And if you want fresh pasta, Duso’s is my go-to place – their butternut squash ravioli is divine
An aside here: You have to train if you’re going to embark on this kind of foodie day. A lot of walking helps, but you want to psyche yourselves for the notion of basically eating non-stop all day. Tasting is the key – don’t look to have large portions, as variety is the objective here. You will be full at the end of the day, for sure, but a good workout for the next few days afterwards will get you back in balance. It’s worth it, trust me.
From the market we went to see a friend who has a wonderful business on South Cambie. Tracy Kadanoff has been a pastry chef for years and she developed an allergy to gluten. So what did she do? She made lemonade – she opened a bakery where she could still do her beautiful work, Lemonade Gluten Free Bakery.
Not only does she do breads and cookies, she does fine cakes and pastries, all from gluten free recipes. You certainly won’t feel like you’re missing anything here! We got goodies for friends who eat gluten free, and we treated ourselves to a salted caramel chocolate tart that we had later that evening. Then across the street I even managed to find treats to take home for “the troops” (our dogs) at Three Dog Bakery.
Time for lunch! I wanted a stroll at English Bay, especially since it wasn’t raining on a February day. So we decided to eat the food of the ‘hood, and go Mediterranean. I know it sounds silly, but we really did go to the Falafel King, on Denman Street. I have to tell you, my first ever restaurant job was in a Lebanese place kind of like this in Calgary, and this place was just as authentic and equally as tasty. If you don’t believe me, check out the link and see the reviews!
We sat on a park bench at English Bay and nibbled our lunch – my falafel was divine, and Martin’s shawarma was delicious. I thought of my Dad, whose ashes were strewn over the waves there years ago, and wouldn’t you know, the sun came out and warmed us up.
We enjoyed the heat, and the view, and we relaxed for a while. Then we thought. perhaps we should see about a little something sweet So off we went down Denman Street. We window shopped and wandered, and eventually found ourselves at an old haunt, True Confections. Martin used to run the kitchen here, so he knew just the thing. A pie of Mud Cake was just what we needed. It’s dense, with an equally dense chocolate fudge icing. We shared a piece as we walked back to the car. If you’re going, I would also recommend the Devil’s Food Cake with marshmallow icing, or the Lemon Heaven Cake with its lemon mousse and sponge cake layers covered in white chocolate glaze.
Time to rest up, as the day was not over yet! We headed back to the hotel to change shoes (lots of walking – it helps work off the calories!). After a couple of hours, we headed out for dinner. We wanted to go to Chambar, but they were full. I should have known, as this is a very hip and popular spot. But this was an evening more for something spontaneous, so we wandered down the road. Gastown is full of little eateries, so we weren’t worried.
We found the Revel Room, not full and yet bustling with an energy that we liked. The retro light fixtures and old concert posters gave a cozy feel to the place, and we liked the menu from the first glance. Success! I thoroughly enjoyed the New Orleans Fix, a house special made with bourbon, citrus juices and homemade pineapple syrup. Martin had one of their craft beers and we shared their Chili Shrimp and their Polenta Strips. They were the perfect snacks before our concert.
Being “of an age” we have amassed a number of memories and many of them are wrapped in music. A chance to see two legends together, intertwining their classics by sharing voices and bands was a truly magical evening. I was a huge Sting fan as a young adult, and Martin’s first concert was the Police. My parents played Simon & Garfunkel all through my childhood and Martin named his dogs after Paul (a Doberman) Simon (a German Shorthaired Pointer). We didn’t get up and dance, but I swear I worked off a few hundred calories in my seat!
We finished the evening off by sharing the tart from Lemonade Bakery back in the hotel room with a cup of tea… the perfect end to the perfect day.
Our trip ended on a high note, with a family breakfast at a funky diner called The Red Wagon. Martin’s daughter Chloae joined us for good old-fashioned hearty morning fare, along with some of the best diner java I’ve had since eating in Harlem. It might sound weird, but pulled pork pancakes with Jack Daniels-spiked syrup are really good, as is Brisket & Eggs. I went a bit more traditional with Eggs Benny, but they did have pulled pork instead of ham. It was a sublime meal. We all took pictures of each other’s food, and hummed as we ate
I know I have rambled, but I wanted to share every delectable moment. I hope you have the stamina to enjoy at least a few of these moments on your next visit to Vancouver; if not, perhaps this article will inspire you to start training.
If you have any foodie trips or moments you’d like to share, please do. I’m always looking for new horizons!
Valentine’s Day is one of those events that tends to elicit strong emotions in people, and not always positive ones. It has possibly become the worst example of a commercialized holiday, and it tends to favour couples relentlessly, leaving single people in a funk. I for one think this is a sentiment that is better expressed any day of the year, not as a scheduled event. Send your lover fl0wers when they are in season, not when an industry decides the flower to send (roses) is one of those at its peak in pricing. Go out for dinner when it suits you, not when the restaurants pack people in and those people look to organize a romantic event in a busy room with a planned menu that hopes to make up for serving too many people at once.
So, as a small gesture in protest, I say “stuff it!” Enjoy the person, or the things, or the situations you love on this day – and don’t worry about fitting into the marketing plan. If you want to eat chocolate, I just posted my recipe for Brownies. It’s a classic I’ve used since my teen years and it’s worked for everything from romantic nights to break-up binges. If you are more of a savoury person, how about thinking outside the box? My husband Martin submitted a Jerk Chicken recipe to a local radio that chooses winners weekly to inspire people to cook in their kitchens. We love Jerk Chicken because it reminds us of a fave holiday spot, Jamaica. Maybe you want to turn the heat up and eat in your bathing suit?
Life is about enjoying the moments – how does that saying go?
Life is not measured by the breaths we take, but rather by the moments that take our breath away.
Whether that is cooking for someone, or with someone, or eating with someone, or while thinking of someone… any variation will work. We have to eat, we might as well enjoy it. Our memories link an experience to a taste, so let’s make sure we can link as many smiles as possible.
Happy Valentine’s Day. May your heart be happy in whatever you do today.
With the end of the festive season and the beginning of a New Year I have resolved to try out new recipes on a more regular basis amidst my enjoyment of old favourites. My year is focused on balance and this is another way I am working to achieve that. Cooking is always a large part of the holidays and the entertaining of friends and family is much of why we say we indulge so heavily. How about enjoying the tastes throughout the year and spacing the indulgence over months instead of days? It would likely put us in a pleasant state of mind, as well.
“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relatives.”
Lady Caroline, Oscar Wilde’s A Woman of No Importance, act 2 (1893)
Yesterday I made a Twelfth Night Torte to mark the official end of Christmas celebrations, and later this week I’ll be making a salad I found in a recent Bon Appetit issue with a unique spice combination. Once I work out a few more times to work off the shortbread and wine from Christmas, I’m going to make a Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Upside Down Cake I saw from Pinch of Yum, a great food blog. I am excited to enter into the new year with new experiences in the kitchen, but I am not looking to reinvent the wheel. I want to set myself up for success, not try to create Boeuf Bourgignon on Monday and Sole Meuniere on Tuesday. Julia Child I am not.
One idea I have is to travel with my recipes. I’m thinking I’ll put up a map on Google and pin the countries whose recipes I have cooked. I’ll be a dining table traveller! My cookbook library is notorious for holding the secrets from all kinds of exotic places and many of the blogs and newsletters I follow have cool stuff too. Anyone out there have any favourites?
So, here goes nothing. Salad tonight will leave me room for popcorn at the movie (my husband and I have a standing date night at the local theatre on Tuesday, and this time of year we gear up for the Oscars.) Maybe tomorrow I’ll pick a book at random and see where it takes me for dinner!
At the start of a new year we all like to make a fresh start and ensure that we are on the best footing for our new adventures. There are traditions for housewarmings, offering blessings for those in new homes making a new life. It seems to me that doing the same thing for a new year is a good idea, so I thought I would list out some of those traditions for you, based on the sentiments. Many of these stem from the two sides of my heritage (the Scots and the Scandinavians), who gave gifts in the dead of winter to share good spirits and reinforce the community.
GOOD HEALTH – Olive oil represents health and well being, and is a wonderful blessing for the kitchen. Spices also symbolize diversity and excitement in life. A potted plant (especially herbs) symbolize life and energy.
PROSPERITY, ABUNDANCE – Bread symbolizes sustenance and usually goes with the blessing “so your house will never know hunger”. Salt has meant luxury throughout time and can be given with the blessing “that your life will always be full of flavour”.
LOVE, STABILITY – Coins symbolize good fortune; it is said to be important to include a coin in a wallet given as a gift and also with the gift of a knife, so as to ensure your friendship is not cut by the blade.
GOOD CHEER, SWEETNESS & LIGHT – Wine and spirits symbolize good cheer in many cultures which tends to go with joy and prosperity as well. Honey symbolizes the sweetness in life well and a connection with nature. A candle represents the light of life and warmth, especially in dark times.
There are also items that help us keep away the negative things, like bad luck or evil spirits. A broom is a good gift to sweep out any bad omens as well as keeping a house clean.
Homemade items are always a welcome gift, not even requiring wrapping. Sharing your own food (and culinary talents) is a beautiful symbol of friendship and community. Fostering those relationships always brings good things, to the recipient and the giver. If you’re stuck for a recipe, try my Banana Bran Muffins.