Monthly Archives: December 2011

Making the most of your New Year’s luck

Did you know there are a plethora of traditions surrounding the idea of maximizing one’s good fortune for the coming year? For those of you looking for last-minute boosts, or anyone starting the New Year and checking up, here are some tips for you (of course I make no guarantees, but it couldn’t hurt, right?)

  • I live in wine country, so this tradition from Spain sounds like a good place to start – consume one grape at each strike of the midnight clock(Spanish grape growers started this tradition to rid themselves of a glut of fruit in the last century, and it stuck). This is a lo-cal tradition, at least 🙂 They say to take heed at the taste of  each grape, as it signifies the tone of each month.
  • Moms will love this one – the more leafy greens you eat at New Year’s, the more likely you are to have lots of money in the coming year (the green colour symbolizing money, of course). This also applies to legumes (peas, beans) – they swell when cooked, signifying a growing fortune.
  • Did you know we don’t just eat ham at New Year’s to give the turkeys a rest? Pigs signify prosperity in many cultures, due to their habits of rooting forward on steady legs, and also due to their rich fat content. By the way, if ham is not your thing, any pork dish will do. Even pigs made of marzipan are considered lucky in Austria!
  • Fish has been a popular “feasting food” since the Middle Ages (before refrigeration), as it could be easily preserved and cooked later. Baccala, or bacalao (dried salt cod) is popular in Italy and Spain from Christmas through New Year.
  • Cakes of various kinds are popular in most cultures (surprised?) Often a token was hidden in the cake and the person receiving it would be the lucky one in the group. (See my recipe for “Twelfth Night Torte”, a French tradition for Epiphany)
  • if you don’t want to eat too much but want to participate, how about passing along the food? A Scottish tradition for Hogmanay is to be a “first-footer” – the first person through the door of a friend’s house in the New Year, bearing gifts. You are to bring coal – to warm their house – or salt – to flavour their food – or sweets – to enrich their lives.

For those of you who want to hedge your bets, here are the things to AVOID for New Years’…

  • lobster – it crawls backwards, thus signifying a lack of progress in the New Year
  • chickens – they scratch backwards, and so could cause regret or focus on the past
  • birds of flight – they could signify your luck flying away (was this why we chose the turkey as a popular holiday bird??)

And, for those wanting to start the year on the right foot, not over-indulging, take heart! You can tell your dining companions you are leaving food on the plate to symbolize food in the pantry all year (and perhaps a healthier waistline, too).

Whatever you eat at New Years’, however you ring in 2012, may you be with loved ones with a smile on your face.

Cheers!

And now we look back…

It’s that time of the year when we all look back on our accomplishments, review our goals and think about the highlights of the past 52 weeks. (After all, we are still hung over from too much food, drink and conversation – we need a bit of time for reflection.There is only so much Boxing Day shopping one can stand.)  Here are some of my gems from 2011:

I am a newsletter junkie. Being also a trivia geek, I love all the tidbits I learn from my various specialty missives received regularly in my Inbox. The best find this year was from a site called Urban Daddy, who sends you the coolest of the cool, the most exclusive gizmos and gifties imaginable. Here is their review of highlights from 2011, if you are keen to know about say, a bikini that can charge your iPhone or a vitamin that can help you recover from the worst of hangovers. For foodies, my best recommendation is Chowhound, the collection of boards and articles from the Chow website. This is where you can learn that you can soften your butter at the same time as you take a shower (bring it in the bathroom with you!), or ask where to find “a cookie recipe that will knock (my) new hubbie’s socks off”. (there were 99 replies – she will be set for life!!) If you want something more work-oriented, how about the Hump Day Humour Gram? This is a guide on how to ensure work doesn’t get too serious by sharing ideas on being silly and successful.

I am proud of my garden, as that is my summertime passion. At Rabbit Hollow, we have a third of an acre, and I use as much as possible to grow things. We now have an edible fence made of  fruit trees and various berries (I made “Fence Berry Jam” this year). We also have a veggie garden full of heirloom varieties of beets, peas, beans, squash and of course tomatoes. Living in the Okanagan is considered paradise in Canada as we actually have a growing season long enough to ripen things ! This year I also added a sensory garden next to my husband’s outdoor kitchen, so that I can show visitors what some of the less common herbs and spices look and smell like, and I can introduce them to the concept of pairing flavours on the spot. I can’t wait till spring comes and I can watch the new sprouts come up. Ella, my Chocolate Lab, is my best helper, sniffing out new blossoms and sampling whenever possible. (She loves the golden raspberries and nasturtium flowers best.)

veggie garden Rabbit Hollow

height of summer splendour

"fence berries"

 

I am proud of sharing myself this year. I have had some great times with my Girl Guide pal, Claire, and the girls we lead- it’s been 6 years, phew! My hubbie and I also shared a great deal of bounty from the Rabbit Hollow harvest. There are jars still left of damson plum jam, and tomato sauce and pickled carrots and various chutneys, even after the many gift bags for friends and relatives.

I am also proud to share my blog. My goal for 2012 is to make time to read more of other people’s work, as I love all the ideas floating out there. I like the idea that we can share our opinions and comment on others’, and not focus on “voting someone off the island”. As I get older, I have found that I have less patience for ill-mannered pastimes like reality TV (that might be due to menopause, which reminds me – if the subject holds any interest for you, check out a blog by two lovely ladies I know called Hot-Flashes)

Well, time to pour another drink, I think, and reflect on what I can come up with for a New Year’s resolution. If you have any good suggestions, I am open to ideas 🙂

What are you serving Santa tonight?

When I was a kid, what went on the plate for Santa was always a big debate. My brother and I would each have our opinion and we both wanted to have the shortbread we decorated on the plate. Santa got milk at our house, not scotch (as I learned was the norm at some other houses). And it wasn’t until I was older that I learned of the custom of leaving a carrot for the reindeer. (Maybe that’s how my Chocolate Lab learned to like carrots – Santa fed her some!)

I would love to know what is the cherished thing for Santa to get at your house on Christmas Eve. Or, what is your favourite thing?
Please leave your comments.

I will be putting out some shortbread, a mincemeat kiss, some vinarterta, and a bit of choocolate-covered sponge toffee. Santa told me he likes single malt, so in the interest of maximizing my chances at a full stocking, I shall leave him a wee tipple.

Merry Christmas everyone!

The Heart of Winter

For those of you who do not enjoy this season, fear not –

we are past the worst. The winter solstice was yesterday, so the days are now getting longer. And Christmas is days away, so you might as well get in the spirit (the expression, “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” comes to mind :)). One Christmas during my retail tenure,  I remember the store manager saying to us before we opened on December 24th, “Anyone saying they are ‘just looking’ today is deluded. Take them around the store until they have their whole list crossed off, and then you can send them to the pub once they have paid!” This was a bit focused on the capitalistic side of the holiday season, perhaps, but it has always reminded me to have a sense of humour about my obligations  and spirit of the winter festive season. I’m just not a “bah humbug” type of person, I guess.

In truth, I am a much bigger supporter of solstice celebrations in spirit. Perhaps it is my Icelandic roots, or maybe it comes from not belonging to any specific religious tradition, but I enjoy the celebration of winter and family and nature. If you are looking for new ideas to boost your enthusiasm this season, I recommend Circle Sanctuary‘s website. They have many ideas on planning a celebration. Food and drink is an integral part, of course (that always makes for a good party!).

It really comes down to making the most of it. By that I don’t mean look for the sales and put more under the tree or on the table. I mean take the time to bake one batch of cookies with a loved one, instead or worrying about making four kinds. Enjoy a meal in view of the Christmas tree and think of all the things for which we can feel grateful. Perform a random act of kindness, for no other reason than to see someone else smile. Wish someone a Merry Christmas or Happy Hannukah when they bump you in the mall or steal your parking space. I guarantee you will feel less wintery and more festive. All of the cultures in the Northern hemisphere celebrate some kind of winter festival to make it through the cold and dark. Embrace the celebrations! (And what the heck, if you feel the best way to take part is to support the economy by shopping more, who am I to stop you? Fill your boots!)

And if you would like to make the most of tradition by using technology, guess what? They have an app for that!… check out this breaking news on experiencing the winter solstice at Stonehenge.

Just remember to pour yourself an eggnog before you start to fiddle around with it 🙂

Friendship Food

I was in the kitchen at home looking for a treat with my tea and discovered a Baci chocolate, the perfect little nibble. It turned out to be not only a tasty treat but also an inspiration; if you’re not familiar, Baci’s are an Italian chocolate (the translation is “kiss”, but they put the Hershey’s version to shame). Each one contains a special message on the subjects of love and friendship. The message this time read:

Friendship brings great happiness with little gestures.

So true – it is the little things that make up the fabric of our lives.

I first discovered Baci’s on my first trip to Europe, discovering the world at the grand old age of eighteen. My first foodie friend, a delectable young woman from South Africa, introduced them to me and I have to say they are still one of my favourite treats. They have a hazelnut filling that is sublime, and for extra excitement there is a whole hazelnut just under the chocolate coating. The messages they contained were exceedingly powerful when read while strolling the streets of Rome, arm in arm with my new friend, dreaming of international romances and happy-ever-after endings.

As I got older, the notion of comfort food became a more common thing with friends. I guess as life progressed, the problems seemed bigger and so a corresponding dose of  food was needed to work out a solution. Thankfully, I had a friend who was a master at such things – fruit crisp being one of them. She had the magical touch for just the right amount of crunch and sweetness in the crumb topping, and her inspired combinations of fruit were full of exotic flavours and the cheery taste of summer sunshine. It was just the thing to cheer you up when you were blue, or to spur you on if you were waffling on some big idea…

Cooking together with friends is a wonderful thing to do, and you really know when you have a special connection if you can create magic in the kitchen. I am lucky that both these girlfriends and I have been able to cook together over the years, making some fantastic meals that have been shared with our families over and over as we remember the good times and great flavours. We live in different parts of the world, but as soon as we enter each other’s kitchens, the tea pot goes on and it’s like we just walked in from down the street. I just returned from Calgary where the tea pot is just now cooling off, and I feel rejuvenated as a result.

I don’t have the fruit crisp recipe, as there isn’t one written down (Sue says she just “feels it”) but here is a recipe from South Africa that is a national favourite; I copied it from the piece of airmail paper I still have between the pages of one of my cookbooks. My friend Merle also claimed it never missed with the menfolk

Ultra Divine Cape Brandy Pudding

Serves 6-8 people

 


250 g dates, stoned and chopped finely

5 mL(1 tsp) baking soda

250 mL (1 cup) boiling water

125 g (1/2 cup) butter or margarine

250 ml (1 cup) sugar

500 mL (2 cups) flour

5 mL (1 tsp) baking powder

2 mL (1/2 tsp) salt

250 mL walnuts or pecans, chopped finely

2 eggs, beaten


 

Sauce:

250 mL (1 cup) sugar

15 mL (1 tbsp) butter

150 mL (1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp) water

5 mL (1 tsp) vanilla extract

125 mL (1/2 cup) brandy (“Yahoo!” she writes)

 

Divide dates into 2 portions and put into separate bowls. Add baking soda to one and pour boiling water over it; allow to cool.

Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs thoroughly, one by one. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into creamed mixture.

Add dry portion of date and nuts, mixing well to blend.

Stir in baking soda-date mixture – mix thoroughly.

Turn into large dish, and bake at 180C (350F) for 45 minutes or till golden brown on top and knife inserted in centre comes out clean.

 

Prepare sauce by heating sugar, butter and water together in saucepan 5 minutes. Remove from stove and stir in vanilla and brandy.

Pour sauce over pudding as it comes out of the oven. Serve hot or cold with whipped cream.

(K’s NOTE: I have poured the sauce over each serving too, which also works well.)

 

%d bloggers like this: