The best present is time 

 

My dad always made a big deal about drinking his coffee in a “real cup”. He would never visit Starbucks because they only offered “to go” cups and he was NOT going to bring his own cup if he had to pay for the coffee. I used to think he was just getting to be an old-fashioned curmudgeon. Now that I’m sitting here with my delicious latte in a ceramic mug and homemade banana bread I completely understand what he meant. 

Perhaps part of my understanding comes from not having my dad around to share a coffee anymore. I value highly all those coffee breaks we did get. He left us far too soon; I had so many more conversations in me to have over so many more cups of coffee. 

I went to see “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” at the theatre this past week – it was delightful, full of one-liners uttered by wise old characters who know how absurd the world can be.  The best line of all was “the best present is time”. So true.

So, I’m taking this moment … To remember my wonderful Daddy and to leave you with my thoughts :) Take a moment for yourself soon, even if you feel you have to steal it. It’s the best present you can give yourself and your loved ones. 

And thanks to Giobean Cafe in Kelowna for the wonderful coffee and goodies. My Dad would have loved you guys. 

Trendy Recipes and Foodie Bloggers

eat different sign

I write a weekly column for a local website, Castanet, about foodie stuff and last week I featured some of the popular food trends of 2015. Food and eating has become more trendy in itself, with quotes everywhere and information to be had behind every click of the mouse.

There were some interesting recipes I found in my list, so I thought it would be fun to include them in my archives here. I’m also going to mention here some of the bloggers and chefs I find myself returning to often for recommendations and ideas. I hope you enjoy this meander into the web of seemingly infinite opportunities!

My first mention was BURGERS – go figure. All kinds of weird and wonderful ingredients are possible… I don’t know about some combinations (a squid slider?!) but I did have oyster burgers a few times and they were delicious. My favourite recipe for this is from Jamie Oliver – his Carpetbag Burger (great name too, don’t you think?)

Next up was WAFFLES, with savoury toppings. I do have a great recipe already, for Pecan Waffles. They are equally good with fruit compote and yogurt, maple syrup and sausages, or BBQ – chicken or pulled pork both work :) pulled pork and waffles I’m also a big fan of the food truck, Wafels & Dinges. I got to eat from one of their trucks on a foodie trip to New York a bunch of years ago; now they are so big you can do a tour of their factory in Brooklyn.

The trend of making up words entered into the next entry, “BRINNER”. Well, my mom used to serve apple pancakes for lunch on a cold winter day, so waffles and BBQ for dinner wouldn’t be a big reach. Years ago when I lived in France it wasn’t uncommon for us to make a salad for dinner on a busy weeknight, with a bit of bacon and poached egg. If you like poached eggs, it’s a nice change from meat and potatoes. You can pair some interesting wines with it too.

Doughnut Plant pb&j

an all-time fave, the PB and J from Doughnut Plant NYC

GYROS and DONUTS are foods that aren’t exactly practical for many to try at home, but it can be fun to find a local haunt and support them. Big cities are full of fun ethnic foods and fusion combinations that can broaden your horizons.  This speaks to the next trend in my list, the I DARE YOU foods.  In smaller communities, my experience is that farmer’s markets can hold wonderful secrets (and vendors often know about places that use weird and wonderful ingredients).

CRAFT BEVERAGES are also very trendy, and the locations and atmosphere have become increasingly competitive and innovative – more fun for customers. My humble advice here is check out social media and look for knowledgeable staff at establishments who can help make recommendations for you. Here’s a  great craft beer primer and a few cocktail possiblities to get you started.

Preserved foods are a big category, and a few items are especially trendy. SALT COD or baccalau as it’s called in the Mediterranean, is a tasty fish. I loved the flavours when we sampled it for the first time in a tapas bar in San Sebastian, Spain. To use it you have to rehydrate it and cut the saltiness which takes a couple of days, so if you want to cheat you can try a recipe with fresh haddock instead. Mario Batali has recorded a traditional favourite salt cod recipe from Italy if you’re game.

I like pickles

My inspiration for the article was PICKLES and so I have to include a link for you on that topic. One of my favourite bloggers is Deb Perelman from Smitten Kitchen and she has a great recipe for a sort of pickled salad that is designed for people who aren’t pickle fans, so that should motivate just about everyone! dr Seuss pickles

Whether you try any of these recipes, or just enjoy a bit of armchair virtual nibbling then Bon Appetit. And if you’re looking for some other bloggers to follow, might I suggest checking out the Saveur Magazine awards list? There are lots to choose from, including a Special Interest category that has bloggers with dietary restrictions or preferences and other passions they want to share!

Pillows of Goodness

Sunday night I made gnocchi for the first time. We had been planning to have gnocchi all winter and with the sighting of the first robin we thought we’d better get to it. I was a bit daunted with such an ambiguous recipe but I poured a glass of wine and tried to channel my best Julia Child. 

The wanted a simple recipe and we already had some cooked potatoes so I did what anyone does these days – I searched for the “best gnocchi” recipe using potatoes. Here’s what I got::

2 potatoes

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 egg

The recipe called for cooking the potatoes in salted water (check!) and then mashing them. I put mine through a ricer to get more texture. Then I was to add the egg and work in the flour, kneading until the dough reached “the right consistency”. Great, a lot of help that was – what’s “right”? 

Reading the comments in reviews of recipes on the Internet can be very useful, and this time they were invaluable. One person said to go with weight for the potatoes, working with 2 lbs and adding the flour 1/2 cup at a time until the dough was resilient but not stiff. Another reviewer cautioned against kneading the dough like you would for bread as the gnocchi would end up tough. He said to gently knead it and then form a snake with the dough. 

Cutting the snake into chunks gives you the gnocchi, which if you roll them over the back of a fork will allow them to catch more sauce. My own two cents was to add a dash more salt, some pepper and some dried thyme to the flour, to add to the final flavour combination. 

The cooking method was to put the gnocchi in salted boiling water and pull them out when they floated. 

That part worked beautifully. I took one more piece of reviewer advice: add the cooked gnocchi to your hot sauce so they  absorb more of the sauce’s flavours. 

So, the recipe I found worked was 2 lbs of potatoes with 1-1/2 cups flour and a tiny bit more for rolling the snakes. For 2 people we had plenty for dinner by cooking only half. The remainder we froze on a baking sheet and later put in a ziplock bag. 



My husband said that gnocchi are sometimes referred to as “pillows of goodness”. As I took my first bite with our homemade prawn bisque, served with monkfish and beans, I could certainly see why. 



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

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