Food Tastes Better with Friends

Yesterday I spoke of comfort food, and how the company that shares the food sometimes has a lot to do with the comfort we get. I am often singing the praises of sharing a meal to bring people together. But what about the times when we eat alone?

You stand out as a solo diner.

I don’t want to say that eating alone can’t be enjoyable; sometimes people want to have quiet time to themselves. What I am referring to are the times when we yearn for company but don’t have any. Then food can taste bland and one can feel much less than nourished after the meal.

Having been a person that didn’t fit in to a group most of my life, I can relate to the loneliness of not being popular as a kid and I remember feeling afraid that I wouldn’t make any friends at school. I was lucky, and found some great companions. I never ate lunch alone.

Sometimes it is the food that heals, and other times it is the company who helps us move forward. In a world of reality TV that promotes singling people out, where the pressure to fit in is even stronger than in generations past, we need to have friends with whom we can feel nourished. Who says that can’t start by “paying it forward” and making a new friend?

Perhaps my teenage memories are why I was so struck by a piece I saw on CBS Sunday Morning today. This show of mostly heartwarming news is always inspiring, and I especially love the stories from Steve Hartman. Mr. Hartman took over for the delightful Bill Geist in delivering tales of everyday heroes that offer hope and inspiration, and today’s entry was no different. #WeDineTogether is a wonderful group of young people… see for yourself:

http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/starved-for-company/

I’d like to think this idea can spread, just like peanut butter and jelly in a sandwich. As Steve Hartman says, maybe the grown ups can learn just as the kids do. Perhaps we could extend the camaraderie from around the table to a philosophy of life. It’s just an idea.

 

 

The Blue Plate Special

Comfort food often harkens back to one’s childhood. There are cozy memories of having eaten such foods and getting that warm fuzzy feeling. Sometimes they helped us get over a stressful situation or past a fear. One of my favourite foods as a kid was fried bologna. A piece of fried bologna on toast was something my dad used to make in an old frying pan I now have in my kitchen. It was not only a tasty memory that symbolized the simplicity of childhood.  Here was a food that I shared with the guy who cheered me on whenever I needed it most. My warm fuzzy feeling wasn’t just for the taste of the bologna, it was for the taste of confidence.

When I was at a local butcher this week I found the deli case calling my name. Sure enough, a big chunk of bologna soon found its way into my grocery tote, along with a package of locally made frozen sauerkraut and bacon perogies. Tonight my hubbie made me a “Blue Plate Special” dinner, complete with carrots sautéed in the pan with the bologna. Pan-fried onion rings, along with sour cream and a bit of Dijon were perfect accompaniments.

I did want to be making the meal, but unfortunately I was on the injured list tonight (I had a mishap with some pruning shears in the garden, but I’ll be back in the kitchen tomorrow.) Feeling a bit less than one hundred percent, I really soaked in the comfort aspect of our dinner. It was almost like having a hug from my dad. Thanks to the gift of a deliciously refreshing homemade lager from a friend we were able to toast to the perfect end of a less-than-perfect day.

What’s the comfort food that makes you feel like things are okay after all and you’ll make it into tomorrow?

A Free Concert

Every morning, rain or shine, Ella and I walk around “the back 40” (an expression my dad used for the back yard,  which was never the 40 acres it signified at origin). It is mostly not our yard, and it’s only about 12 acres but we are lucky enough to enjoy it. 

Although I can certainly say there are mornings when the weather makes our outing a bit more of a challenge, I always come back breathing deeper and grateful for the quiet time. 

Through the summer we enjoy the bounty of the garden and the orchard, lush greenery and plenty of fruit and veggies to colour the landscape. The fall is full of colours on the leaves. In the winter I get to see lots of animal tracks: deer, coyotes, the odd rabbit and sometimes even mice I think. Birds leave strange markings when they land, brushing their wings in the snow. And of course in spring we see everything come back to life – the plants and the animals. A cacophony of winged creatures arrives – crows, ravens, Canada geese, starlings, sparrows and then finally the orioles and robins. We have a screech owl too but he sleeps in. 

This morning we got front row seats to a spring concert.  I thought I would share an excerpt, so you have a sense of what it’s really like here at Rabbit Hollow. They say a picture is worth a thousand words; I think a video can be worth at least a few deep breaths. 


Have a great day. 

My Moment of Zen

In a world where things move at 4G (or is it 5G now, I can’t remember) and there is a lot of non-stop noise, it’s nice to enjoy a slow and quiet moment. One of my favourite reasons for walking the dog is to have those kind of moments. Another way I take a deep breath is to spend time in my garden. The first method I discovered for stepping back from the fray was reading.

Today I stopped at the local Chapters to stock up on reading material. I do have books at home, but I was looking for inspiration, new information to broaden my horizons. I also have to manage my time and focus on priorities. I don’t know about you, but if I have a good book I have been known to disappear inside it for lengths of time. I can only allow shorter intervals right now, so having something that was of shorter duration was more practical. A few food magazines was just enough to do the trick.

Just buying the magazines put me in a state of euphoria. Choosing publications that offered something unique was important; I don’t need to read about 15 different variations on brownies or omelettes. I wanted something outside the box.

Scooping up the last few issues of Lucky Peach was important; if you haven’t heard of this periodical yet, unfortunately it’s almost too late. The offbeat and ingenious effort from Momofuku’s David Chang and Peter Meehan will be shutting down later this year. (I invite you to at least check out their website for brilliantly written pieces.)

I am a fan of foodie travel, and my current favourite on that front is Saveur. There used to be a similar magazine called Intermezzo which I loved, but I can’t find it anymore. (You have to roll with the punches.) I have learned of cuisines in faraway places, and ingredients I never knew existed. I have added places to my bucket list and filled my kitchen with aromas that had me transported across the world.

As a treat, I picked up a special edition on California wine, as we are travelling there in the fall. Not only will I have some new pairing ideas, I might find a few pit stops. After all, travelling is thirsty work.

Hiding in the back shelves was a title I hadn’t seen before, so I splurged and picked it up too. I love to know how things work and Milk Street is all about the how’s and why’s of a dish. It’s a new publication; I’ll let you know how I like it.

I suppose you could call this literary gluttony a guilty pleasure. There are many websites with foodie information, and articles galore on every topic imaginable. But there is something comforting in putting my feet up and flipping those glossy pages, pondering the delectable food photos as I sip my tea. I consider this akin to meditation, a time for my mind to wander at leisure with no agenda. As much as my workouts are important to stay in shape and my recipe testing helps with my writing, a bit of mental free time helps me find my ways to new ideas. Sometimes, like a walk with Ella where I let her decide the route, my mind will wander down its own path and find a solution to a challenge that doesn’t even involve food.

I read an article today about Paula Wolfert, a renowned cookbook author and icon in the world of food and restaurants. She has Alzheimer’s disease, and so not only does she not remember how to cook many recipes anymore – she also has lost much of her sense of taste. And yet, she is still working with food and with people who want to learn from her. (I can’t wait to read the biography of her that is coming out soon. If you’d like to read the article, it’s on my Facebook page. ) 

Reading Ms. Wolfert’s story reminded me that every moment counts. Even with a life rich in memories, we need to make every effort to live our best life in every moment.  There is a zen saying:

Quiet the mind and the soul will speak.

I’d like my soul’s vocabulary to improve.

 

 

 

My Favourite Cookbook(s)

I saw a post on Facebook today that asked about favourite cookbooks. They didn’t mean websites, or even online recipes, but rather the good old-fashioned cover-to-cover tomes of cook’s notes on paper. I wanted more than just a tiny comment box to record my thoughts on the matter, so here I am. I’m hoping that my choices may interest someone else – or perhaps a reader may have a cherished volume whose name they will share. Do I need to mention I have more than one favourite?

SENTIMENTAL FAVOURITES

If a favourite volume is designated as such by its frequency of use, then my stained journal with all the recipes of my childhood would win hands down. All my old stand-bys are in there and not only do I make them regularly, I also share them with friends and relatives. They aren’t on the internet in a way I can find them unless I put them in this blog, so the weathered pages are my kitchen bible. When I needed my Auntie Maxine’s foolproof Yorkshire Pudding recipe, that’s where I wrote it. I still use it, and when I get long distance phone calls asking for it, I like it to be handy.

The first cookbook I got as an adult was one my parents bought me. It was aptly named The Only Cookbook. Since I started cooking before the internet was around, it was an important resource. I learned details about roasting meat, making soup, preparing meringue and many other multi-step cooking feats from its pages. I still recommend it as a gift for any young cooking enthusiast leaving the nest. (It’s now even more affordable on Amazon.)

OLD FRIENDS

As for published cookbooks, The Frog Commissary Book has been a good friend for many years. This collection comes from two popular eateries (The Frog and The Commissary) in Philadelphia.  It not only has plenty of practical everyday recipes like Frog Commissary Cookies , the margins of its pages are filled with handy tips about cooking and entertaining, like how to set up a bar for 50 people or an illustrated set of instructions on making lemon crown garnishes. 

The other old friend I would not want to be without is The Chatelaine Cookbook, published in 1965. When I want a recipe for a preserve, or something like waffles or tomato aspic, that is where I look. There are few photos, no tales of how a recipe came about – just straightforward instructions. It’s what my grandmother would have told me if I asked about a recipe.

STYLE (aesthetic and cooking)

For a cooking style as a theme, I still have a fondness for Southwest cooking and my copy of Mark Miller’s Indian Market Cookbook is as useful as it is beautiful. Going to the Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe was on my bucket list for years, but now I live my dream through the pages. Our warm summer climate and relatively mild winters are a good fit for the aromatic and often bold flavours, and I enjoy growing chiles and herbs in the garden that I use in these recipes. Rosemary Pecan Bread is from this book.

TRAVEL

One of my best girlfriends is from South Africa, and I was fortunate enough to visit her there many years ago, and sample some of the ethnically complex and flavourful food. The following Christmas she sent me a copy of Cook with Ina Paarman (she is like her American namesake, Ina Garten – a goddess in the cooking world in her country). You haven’t lived fully until you’ve had Milk Tart. (Full disclosure: this recipe is directly from my girlfriend, Merle. Ina Paarman now has a very comprehensive website, including many recipes.)

REFERENCE

My mom gave me a copy of Larousse Gastronomique not long after I returned from my year living in France. I had spent much time while there researching French recipes through history, and it helped with some of my translations. The encyclopedia format means you need to know what you’re planning to cook if you want a recipe; it is equally as interesting only as a reference for classic European cooking.

 

I have a bookcase full of cookbooks, and I don’t use them all as much as I would like. Still, their presence is a comfort and an inspiration. I guess it is a reflection of my age that the feel of a book in my hands and the action of flipping through pages is much more comforting than typing and tapping through an internet search.

Do you have a favourite cookbook, or did you eschew your collection for an online app? How do you find recipes, and save those you want to make again? I’d love to hear your comments.

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