Tastes and Colours of the season

orchard fall light

We’re in the heart of autumn. The days are shorter, the skies are greyer, but there is still a light from within the trees as they change colour. I wonder if the idea of undercarriage lighting came from brilliant yellow leaves on the grass in fall? The temperatures are cooler too, and so the flavours of the season are crisper and as a result.

In the spring, I enjoy the first green flavours from the warming sun – peas, baby greens, and asparagus all taste like new life fresh from the garden. In the summer, the longer brighter days allow for rich, luscious flavours and sweet aromas – peaches, tomatoes, and corn are decadent in their intense juiciness and complex flavours. In the fall, the bounty begins to diminish and I savour the squash and pears and plums.

I am lucky enough to walk through a veggie garden and fruit orchard every morning. I am trying hard to gather the last of the freshness before winter arrives. We have been drying herbs, pickling beets and peppers, making chutney and jam, drying mushrooms, and freezing all kinds of goodies.fall pearsToday I ate one of the last Bartlett pears still hanging on a tree, and I made a Plum Torte with the very last of the plums we had. I was wistful as I stood in the orchard, the floral perfume of the pear filling my mouth and the crisp bite lingering on my lips and the low rays of sunshine lighting the leaves.

The winter flavour for me is quince. The fruit are still on the trees now, awaiting the first frost before they reach maturity and show off an elegant lemony tang along with an exotic perfume that belies its gnarled exterior and rock-hard raw interior. But until then, I’ll make the most of the last of the bounty. If you can scrounge some plums, you can join me!

Plum Torte

You gotta have pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving – at least I do

I love pumpkin pie. Turkey is nice, homemade stuffing can be delicious, and good gravy is an art. I like the variety of flavours on a Thanksgiving plate with all the side dishes, but my true passion has always been pumpkin pie. It is one of the foods that got me cooking.fall pumpkin cart Paynters Market

You see, my Mom hated making pastry. As a result, she avoided it whenever possible. She is also not a real fan of pumpkin pie in particular, so when one year she mentioned not making it for Thanksgiving I stepped in to avoid a serious break in tradition. (I think I was 12.) I offered to make the pie. I figured, how hard can it be? Well, pastry is something that I don’t mind. My Mom says the talent of achieving tender flaky pastry is one that skips a generation. I think she was just buttering me up, although that never occurred to me at the time. The pastry was easy enough; it was the scalding of the milk was what scared me. But I pulled through, and followed the recipe. Then, after tasting the filling, I took my first leap as a gourmand and kicked up the spices a notch. The rest, as they say, is history.

When we served up the pie that night after dinner, it sliced up beautifully. I was amazed at how the custard held its shape and yet tasted fluffy. The spice and sweetness were well balanced, and the pastry was rich and flaky. I was pleased, and when my Mom said it was the Best Pumpkin Pie, Ever I was over the moon. And I never looked back, baking up a storm from that autumn onward. When I had to make traditional Thanksgiving dessert for the film crews during my movie catering days, I confidently pulled out my old favourite, and it was always a hit.

pumpkin pie Happy Gourmand

I don’t know if this recipe will cause an epiphany at your house this Thanksgiving, but it’s easy enough to do and it has character. I hope you can enjoy it half as much as I do :)  I am truly grateful I am able to share it with you.

Oh, and for those who might like a gluten-free version or who don’t like pastry, you can make the filling in ramekins or other ceramic or glass dishes, it makes a lovely dessert. Just watch the time as smaller containers will cook faster.

The Secret to Happiness is in Sharing

Norman-Rockwell-Thanksgiving

I write often about the fact that sharing food is a central concept to enjoying it. Gathering around a table to break bread and share the events of the day has been an integral part of society since the ancient Greek and Romans started it. As a cook and a lover of food, I get a kick out of seeing others enjoy my preparations and also being able to sit down and savour someone else’s hard work.

Food isn’t the only thing that is fun to share; friendship works exactly the same way. One of the easiest friendships to have is with a dog, and I have been privileged to know many four-legged friends in my life. Dogs don’t judge friends; once they have decided you are a companion they stick by you for life. I am partial to Labrador Retrievers, who are famous for their gregarious nature and ability to be thrilled with whatever you want to suggest to them. IMG_2550 They can be running or swimming at full speed one moment, and then relaxing and ready to nap the next. With their dense soft fur, they are eminently huggable, and will often encourage this kind of behaviour, being touchy-feely animals. They are also big lovers of food, another worthy trait in a friend, I think. I highly recommend at least making use of a dog that belongs to someone you know even if you don’t have your own. They say time with a dog lengthens your life, so how bad can it be?

In this post I’d like to salute my current companion, Ella. She is featured this week in a photo contest, so here’s your chance to think about dogs you might like. Hopefully you’ll vote for my lovable Brown Girl, but even if you don’t I’m sure this few moments will put a smile on your face. Vote here (no registration required)

Take time out to simply Be Happy and Live in the Moment. It’s Ella’s philosophy. Doesn’t she look like she’s enjoying life?

Ella & me selfie Knox Mtn 2014

Sandwich Making for Dummies

An example of a really sad sandwich, not something to aspire to...

An example of a really sad sandwich, not something to aspire to…

I just consumed the few edible parts of what was called a sandwich by a shop in Revelstoke that shall remain nameless as I hope this was an unusual occurrence. It has prompted me to write this post, thus preventing further such lunchtime tragedies. This sandwich was not quite as pathetic as a BLT I once had that was missing the bacon (1/3 of its identity!!) Dare I say there is such a thing as sandwich etiquette?

 I’d like to offer up some simple tips for a successful sandwich:

  1. TAKE YOUR SANDWICH SERIOUSLY. If you own or work in a sandwich shop, eat your product and make sure it works. This should be good value food, something you are proud to share with others. If you are making a sandwich just for you, then take a minute to prepare something tasty that you will enjoy, not endure. Even a PB & J deserves a little respect :)
  2. If you are taking orders in an establishment that makes sandwiches, please TAKE THE ORDER CORRECTLY AND FOLLOW UP TO ENSURE IT GETS MADE CORRECTLY. (Do I sound like a Seinfeld episode?)  I ordered a vegetarian sandwich on multigrain. My companion ordered turkey on white. I got vegetarian on white, and he got turkey on multigrain. I would have preferred waiting when the person handing over the bag discovered the error rather than eat something I didn’t order.
  3. When including vegetables such as cucumbers and tomatoes in a sandwich, SEASON WITH SALT AND PEPPER. Even when you’re using the freshest ingredients from your own garden, a touch of seasoning won’t hurt, and with the commercial groceries most establishments use, salt and pepper can be life savers in elevating the taste of the finished product.
  4. Remember, NOT ALL MEATS & CHEESES ARE CREATED EQUALLY. Choose one that fits the tenor of the rest of your sandwich. Tomatoes and lettuce from the garden deserve something more than a Kraft Single or a slice of processed turkey.
  5. For condiments and spreads, DISTRIBUTE EVENLY on the bread or wrap. If you’re going to count this item as a component that contributes to the flavour of your sandwich, then you want to taste it with every bite. Don’t be chinzy! (If it’s too expensive to spread all over, then don’t use it; otherwise you’re just teasing people.) 
    misproportioned sandwich

    A sandwich out of proportion – too much bread versus filling. It’s also hard to fit in your mouth!

  6. BUILD YOUR SANDWICH PROPERLY so it holds together as you eat it. No one wants salami slapping on their chin, or tomaatoes and cheese sliding out the back end on the first bite.
    1. The bread or bun needs to hold together, not be so soft that a spread or other moist filling makes it go squishy. If it’s toasted, then don’t wimp out – make it crispy! Otherwise it’s just warm bread. Don’t use anything too crusty though, or you won’t be able to bite through the whole sandwich.
    2. Tomatoes, cucumber and other slippery ingredients need to be not-too-thick, or they will slide around too much. Try to put other ingredients in between two slippery ones if you have them.
    3. Lettuce works best if it’s in bigger pieces, or entirely shredded. Little torn bits don’t give even distribution.
    4. Bigger is not always better. You should  be able to fit the entire width of the sandwich in your mouth, so you can taste the whole thing.
      Dividing lunch components so they don't squash each other or leak is important for your enjoyment.

      Dividing lunch components so they don’t squash each other or leak is important for your enjoyment.

  1. PACK YOUR SANDWICH PROPERLY. If you’re not eating a sandwich immediately then this is an important element to enjoying it later.
    1. Squishy ingredients are best wrapped separately, to be added just before eating.
    2. Bread softens when wrapped, especially with added fillings, so consider that when choosing your bread in the sandwich-making phase.
    3. Don’t drop an apple on top of it. If you must pack harder things in with your sandwich, think about a plastic container, or pack those items under the sandwich in your lunchbox or bag.
    4. Be food safe. If your sandwich has dairy, meat or fish it should stay as close to fridge temperature as possible until you eat it. Use an insulated container and cold packs if need be.

 

Now, that’s not so hard, is it? Trust me, you won’t regret taking a moment to appreciate this simple portable meal. Show your sandwich some respect and you will feel better about yourself all day.

A happy sandwich!

A happy sandwich!

Life is a Bowl of Cherries

cherries on the tree

Today was a family day and we enjoyed it “to the max”, as we used to say when I was a kid. At one point I looked out the kitchen window and thought, “You can’t ask for much more than this – to be happy and healthy and enjoy some quality time with loved ones”. I might be sounding a bit idyllic even for me, but let me explain…

We picked fruit today from the trees in our yard. This morning after I walked the dogs I had an apricot that was slightly warm from the morning sun. I felt a bit like I was in an advertisement; it was surreal. Then later we picked cherries – buckets of them. We pitted cherries till our palms hurt from pushing the pitter. We put cherries in the freezer. We made cherry jelly. And I baked cherry clafoutis which we took to a potluck dinner. There are still buckets of cherries in the fridge for eating! It’s like we have hit the cherry jackpot and the winnings just keep rolling in!

I don’t want to sound like I am a child of the Depression, but I have to admit that the abundance of such food on our doorstep is daunting. It is humbling to know that you have more than enough and at the same time there is an odd sense of duty in me that says I should not waste it. (Perhaps that might help explain why we turned our kitchen into an assembly line today!) I remember cherries being a rarity when I grew up; they were the most expensive fruit other than tropical varieties – and those were not something we bought unless for a special occasion. My Mom loves cherries, but she taught us that they were a treat to be savoured, not a food to gorge on (you know, “One for the bucket, one for me, one for the bucket, two for me…”) It was like a special reward today to be able to enjoy our very own bounty and to share it with others. Decadence can be a simple thing, it seems.

There was also a decadence to watching Martin and Chloae from the window, swapping stories as they filled their buckets. Father-daughter time is something else that is a rarity these days and it too should be cherished. I have many such memories to keep in my heart, and with my Dad gone I am glad for every one of them and wish there could have been more.

It seems a very fitting saying, that expression that “life is a bowl of cherries” when things are going well. The joy of being able to appreciate good things in abundance is special; it reminds us that we are fortunate, and fuels us for the days when we feel down. I am so glad we really got to live that saying today.

My Mom is still around and she still loves cherries.
I is currently staying with us, so she will have her fill too! I hope you get to enjoy time for some cherries this weekend. If you would like to make your own Cherry Clafoutis, click on the link for the recipe.

cherry clafoutis

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