How to chase away a winter cold

chicken noodle soup can

Did your Mom like to quote platitudes about staying healthy when you were a kid? You know, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away!” and “Early to bed, early to rise, keeps a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” I always wondered how the secret to a long and healthy life could be so simple, but apparently there is one saying that does work well:

Starve a fever, feed a cold.

Since I have had a winter cold every year since my sinuses were affected by jaw surgery as a teenager I can tell you that even if you don’t think this works to cure you, it will make you feel a bit better. Chicken soup might be great for your soul; it’s even better for clogged sinuses and a sore throat.

sick - tissuesMy favourite recipes when I have a cold are boldly flavoured foods, I think because it’s hard to taste when my nose is all stuffed up. There is also scientific research that says hot foods when you are cold help boost your system (conversely, cold foods with a fever help cool you down). It’s also important to stay hydrated when you are sick, so liquids of any kind are crucial and water gets boring fast.

  • Porridge is the way I start the day when I’m a sickie, seasoned with cinnamon and vanilla and jazzed up with a handful of dried cranberries for some extra vitamin C. Drizzle some maple syrup over top to cheer your spirits, and get the boost from the natural sugars. Click the link for even more ideas from Jamie Oliver – who better than a bonafide Englishman!
  • Hot & Sour Soup works wonders, even better than regular chicken soup. My recipe is a simple one; it kept me alive as a starving student! If you want more solid food than soup, then my recommendation is a grilled cheese sandwich, with multiple cheeses and caramelized onions – and bacon, if you feel up to it.
  • Garlic is a famous remedy for many things, and rosemary is an old favourite in curing respiratory problems, so if you’re up to eating a full meal, go for a rosemary-rubbed roast with some garlic mashed potatoes.
  • I have an Icelandic tea that is very tasty with honey and the blend of herbs in it – angelica, sweet cicely, chervil and Northern dock) are an old Icelandic remedy for colds (who can argue with one’s ancestors?)
  • Mexican hot chocolate is a nice switch for the endless cups of tea, and the spice is supposed to help clear your system of toxins too. I like Ina Garten’s recipe so that is the link I offer for you.
  • Ice cream is a great way to soothe a sore throat, and if you add hot fudge or caramel sauce you’ll feel even better… it’s a good substitute for having Mom around to look after you :)

sick in bedIf you’re reading this sick in bed, I hope this helps. If you’ve made it through to the other side, bookmark this page for the next bout of illness to cheer you up!

The Secret to a Happy Christmas Dinner

happy Christmas dinnerChristmas is my favourite time of year, and Christmas dinner seems to epitomize the festive season: the food and drink and best of all, the company. Just think – at what other time of year can you argue about whether the dressing should be traditional or adventurous, or agonize over which tablecloth would look nicer, and which serving pieces to put out to make sure Aunt So-and-so sees the gift you never otherwise use! (Okay, maybe in the closest families that happens every Sunday, but it seems most of the other days of the year we are far too busy to spend that much time on dinner.) On that point I agree with the Chef – be grateful you have those people you care about enough to argue with, and toast their good health before you dive into that sumptuous dinner.

As far as the menu goes, I have always been one who liked to “upset the apple cart” so to speak, by trying to suggest some new (or old) twist on the Christmas dinner. I wanted to try goose after having read Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. I always wondered what Brussels sprouts tasted like and figured they couldn’t really be as bad as my Dad said. And who wouldn’t marvel at the idea of marshmallows at the dinner table, all toasted over a dish of sweet potatoes! Then there was the stuffing. This was a topic that was hotly discussed by my parents, as my Mom read more cooking magazines and my Dad pined for the “good old days” when celery and sage were all it needed. (Years later, he would be the one saying why hadn’t we added walnuts or used cornbread earlier!)  But if you ask me what I remember about Christmas dinner, it is not the specific menu items but rather that warm and fuzzy feeling that came once the plates were empty.

I for one don’t think it was merely the tryptophan that made me groggy and light-headed at Christmas; it was more that sense of euphoria that comes over you when you immerse yourself in the spirit of Christmas. If you truly believe in the essence of Christmas then as you let it into your heart and take active part in the festivities and the giving, you cannot help but feel better yourself. Children know this intuitively, and it is only as our hearts harden if we don’t practice such things that we lose sight of the true meaning of this holiday. Christmas is not for children, but for the child that lies within us all, hoping for a chance to believe in something pure and good, and listening for that magic signal which says that something exists.

Grinch carving the roast beast

So if you need a dose of “It’s A Wonderful Life” or “The Polar Express” before Christmas dinner to get you in full gear, go right ahead. When you sit down to dinner, cherish the meal, and those around you, and of course the cook who made it possible. It is important to take Christmas to heart, for if you do it right, it just might stay with you until next year. Wouldn’t that make the world a wonderful place?

As Tiny Tim said so long ago, “God Bless us every one.” Merry Christmas from our table to yours. Tiny Tim Bless Us Everyone

More Shades of Grey than I can count

I couldn’t help it, the urge was too great. The range of emotions I have felt over the last few weeks has been a roller coaster ride of epic proportions, encompassing passion, melancholy, lust and even anger. I had to share my experience.

I am speaking of course about the wonder of our autumn season this year, the ever-changing colours of the foliage spanning more than two glorious months with each day showcased under a new variation of grey. I feel as though I have been watIMG_4058ching a symphony being composed.IMG_3752

016e3521d3983acedf1539c2b208982ac2560217ddIMG_2369In honour of the allusion I put in my title, I wanted to suggest a tribute to this spectacular season. So, I am offering 50 ways we can appreciate the wonder of autumn, and the passing of life in general. I’ve started my list in my Happy Gourmand Castanet column and I listed more suggestions on my Happy Gourmand Facebook page. I include ten below, and I’ll wrap up with my last 10 on Remembrance Day on Facebook.

1. Take a walk in the morning and start your day with a dose of appreciation for the fresh air and all of Mother Nature’s fine work, including the shade of grey.

2. Spend a quality moment with your kids (if you don’t have kids or can’t borrow some, a pet will do just fine.) Enjoy their company, listen to what they have to say. They might surprise you with their honest view on things. It might show you a new shade :)

3. Perform a random act of kindness and watch the grey lift away.

4. Bake some cookies and taste a little sweetness to lighten a particularly dark day. Might I suggest my Tropical Delight cookies?

5. Listen to music and tap your toes to something that will make you see all the colours of the rainbow.   

6. Take a yoga class. Stretch, relax, and maybe make a new friend.

7. Invite friends over for dinner. Even if it’s a potluck, the shared company will brighten the greyness.

8. Go see a movie with a friend. Share your popcorn, laugh afterwards about the funny parts, or share a meaningful look if it was sad. The grey will be forgotten for at least a moment.

9. Send a card to a faraway friend and tell them how much you miss them. You will brighten your day and theirs!

10. Simply take a moment and breathe deep. Feel grateful. That’s all.

foggy winter morning Rabbit Hollow

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.

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