Monthly Archives: February 2012

Goldilocks was on to something…

As I drove back along Highway 97 from Okanagan Falls to West Kelowna yesterday, I was enjoying not only the serene snow-covered hills over the beautiful blue lake, but also the mocha I had in my travel mug. It was an intrinsic part of this sublime experience, with rich chocolate-y goodness under the cinnamon-dusted whipped cream, heightened by the heady aroma of dark roast java. To top it all off, it was just the right temperature. And that is the theme of my post today.

When I was a little girl, I always thought that the Goldilocks story was a bit hokey. Don’t get me wrong – I love porridge, always did; and I think bears are cool too – it just didn’t seem like much of a lesson to learn that porridge, or anything else, should be not too hot or not too cold, but “just right”. Little did I know how much it really does matter.

illustration by Margaret Evans Price, 1927

Becoming a foodie was the start of my appreciation of temperature, I suppose. Cookies still warm out of the oven don’t taste the same as cooled ones. And if they are too hot, they don’t taste like anything – mostly because your tastebuds end up burnt! And ice cream tastes different when rock hard than it does when it’s just soft enough to squish on the roof of your mouth. But that is just the tip of the iceberg… I didn’t discover wine until I was older.

Wine temperature is of paramount importance. As I learned when studying wine, at different temperatures one wine can taste like something else all together – acids and tannins are sharper when wine is colder, and fruit flavours and other aromatics are more intense when it’s warmer (acids and tannins are less pronounced). That’s why the experts recommend you drink red wine at a warmer temperature. Please note, though, that “room temperature” is a reference from when rooms were cooler than today – even full bodied reds shouldn’t be served warmer than 15-18C/59-64F. Call me a geek if you like, but it’s true.

a basic rule for serving white and red wines...

Hot beverages have ideal temperatures too. If you brew or drink your coffee at too hot a temperature, the essential oils from the beans will have evaporated, leaving little of the complex flavours behind. Optimum range is 70-80C or 155-175F. Green teas should be steeped at this same temperature; if you use almost boiling water like you would for black tea (100C/212F) you will scald the leaves.

Chocolate temperature is crucial as well. One of my favourite chocolatiers, Vosges Chocolates from Chicago (the folks who came up with bacon and chocolate!), has this great reference on tasting chocolate for the best experience. As if you needed an excuse to increase your enjoyment…

So, there is your bit of silly trivia for the day. Hopefully it helps you enjoy your favourite tastes even more. If you have other preferences, I would love to hear about them – please leave your comments.

Raising a glass

Daddy in Maui, sampling gourmet nibbles on our private lanai - Isn't life grand?

My Dad was a fellow who loved  life. He had his foibles, as any of his friends would gladly tell you, but he certainly enjoyed sharing a good time. Food and drink were always an important part of our family life as I grew up, and once my parents discovered the range of foods available with expanding grocery stores and their own travels, this “meat-and-potatoes” guy was born again.

Today would have been by Dad’s 69th birthday. He died a few years ago, but I still think of him often, and always when I am enjoying a special food experience. Some of my favourite memories are from Friday nights we used to share at his Treetop Bistro (the corner table at the window of his 3rd floor apartment in downtown Vancouver, amongst the branches of overgrown greenery). We sampled Stilton cheesecake with rhubarb sauce, we created pork skewers with a piquant Asian sticky BBQ sauce, we paired obscure wines from the south of France and Tasmania with our delicacies. We also solved the problems of the world, and laughed and toasted our successes.

I shall raise a glass in Daddy’s honour tonight at dinner, and I vow always to remember to taste every mouthful of life to the fullest. I have posted one of his favourite recipes if you want to join in the celebration – Jelly Roll was what we always made for his birthday.

Cheers!

Fat Tuesday is fine by me!

Isn’t it interesting that the day proceeding the start of Lent is seen in some places as an all-out binge, as if to signify that one should load up to make sure that there are minimal regrets whilst one is supposed to abstain from those excesses in life? Or perhaps the idea was to give you something to think about on those long pre-spring nights, knowing how good life can be and pondering the value of what is missing and how those blessings enrich our lives?? Well, without sounding too crass I hope, I would like to suggest that whichever way you take Mardi Gras, (or Fat Tuesday as it translates to English) you should take advantage of a day that encourages you to enjoy life and share that joy.

 Wouldn’t it brighten a mid-February evening to have the family dress up for dinner and show off their outfits the way the bourgeois used to strut their stuff inVenice cafes? Or perhaps you would prefer to turn up the music (and maybe the heat) and adorn everyone with beaded necklaces? You could play New Orleans jazz and march around the living room, or go more exotic and add feathers – it’s like Rio! Trust me, it won’t take long before everyone is in the spirit of things… and then there is the food and drink, of course.

It’s okay – you have spent the last six weeks trying to live up to your new resolutions and improve your routine, so don’t you deserve to cut yourself a little slack? Skip the gym for a day or two and burn off that energy by dancing! Cook up your favourite specialties, or look to the traditional items for Mardi Gras – various kinds of donuts and fritters, crepes or pancakes; the King cake with a hidden figurine (whoever gets it in their piece has to host the next party!); sparkling wines are good, cognac works too, or even fun cocktails will work! After all, this is one of those times when the philosophy of “carpe diem” applies to the fullest extent. If your life was over the next day, what would you most want to do?

ready, set...

It seems to be a reminder we need often but heed rarely – to live life to its fullest, and enjoy each moment for what it brings.

...flip!

Even if you can’t take much time to live on the edge and get into the spirit of Mardi Gras, think about splurging a little bit on something and do it without guilt but just for the sheer enjoyment. (You can always feel guilty tomorrow!)

True Love

A timeless topic, love is, considered by most to be essential to human survival and one of the things that distinguishes all kinds of relationships. Love has brought together and torn apart soul-mates throughout history and fairy tales. Anthony and Cleopatra, Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella and her prince, Beauty and the Beast, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Napoleon and Josephine, Ross and Rachael… (okay, some were more powerful than others). The rest of us deserve a feeling that makes the world stop for a moment, don’t we?

We use the word these days to show enthusiasm for material possessions more often than we mention it to those close to us. Popular culture demonstrates this: famous characters like Carrie Bradshaw and her New York girlfriends discussed sex with people and their love for shoes. Enthusiasm is not to be discouraged, but love should not be made light of, either. One needs to make sure that “love” means making the most of the moment. If one is to use the term. Perhaps that is a theme for the day that commemorates the history of love, to think seriously about how we can honour this essential part of life.

My parents met on Valentines’ Day, so I might have a biased opinion on the notion of romance. They would have romantic dinners and breakfast in bed. They would give each other cards, “just because”. There were lovely gifts, and sticky notes, and much laughter and love. They would dance in the kitchen and kiss in the hall. They were serious about loving each other.

My parents on their 13th anniversary, before heading off to a romantic dinner...

I am happy that many of my childhood memories about romance have become part of my romantic life. I was fortunate enough to marry a chef, so decadent things like chocolate desserts are not lacking in my life. We love to dance together any chance we get. Every time I go away – to Girl Guide camp, or on a business trip – there are sticky notes with love messages in my suitcase.

I love my husband, and I know he loves me. We do both love food, and music. All the usual suspects will be a part of our Valentines’ Day festivities. Not because we want to support a commercial holiday, but rather because we never want to waste an opportunity to celebrate our love. As Winnie the Pooh liked to say, “It’s better with two”.

I wish everyone the chance to be happy in love. May this saint’s day inspire you to let your heart speak its mind.

Heartwarming

February seems to be the month when we most need a bit of love, at least in this hemisphere. It’s cold and grey, it’s in between holidays so the only bit of celebration is for sports fans when the Superbowl happens. Once that first weekend is over, we’re stuck in the doldrums again. Many of us eschew the sugary sweet version of Valentines’ Day that now exists, refusing to participate in the commercial event that turns romance into a Hallmark movie. But if you are one of these purists looking to survive the dead of winter, how do you manage? I have a suggestion…

How about embracing the silence? Why not just enjoy a bit of quiet beauty? A bit of mediation, perhaps even a few positive thoughts?? Whether this is a solitary activity or one shared with your soul mate, it is one that may get you through the darkness to the other side. Have you ever heard the expression, “It’s darkest before the dawn”? Enlightenment may come from taking time to pause and listen.

I think this reasoning can work with many different pastimes, as well.  My exercise plan in February always seems to end up being simple – but that’s better than nothing, right? Long walks with the dogs at twilight are refreshing not just because of the crisp air. We all enjoy clearing the cobwebs from the day, and the silence that comes this time of year around Rabbit Hollow wraps me like a blanket.

from Roger McCallum

This year, with the changing weather, we have had Canada geese circle at dusk every night, heralding the darkness like trumpeters announcing a proclamation.

This week has had us shrouded in fog, with frost thick on the trees. Shades of grey are all that remains, like an old photo that captured a long ago memory. I feel as though time has stopped as I wander the field with my thoughts. It is my time to sort through everything and file it away. Once spring comes, colours and sounds and aromas all compete for my attention and I never seem to get that same quiet time.

I couldn’t live in this year round – it would suck all the energy from me I think, like it sucks the colour out. But for a little while, it’s like time at a monastery or on a mountaintop. You can take stock of things, and then move forward.

Even the food I eat this time of year seems to have clear flavours. We jazz things up with a bit of Cajun spice now and then, and we eat a bit of Asian stir fry and curry – all of them have many ingredients, but the theme is very clear and intense (like the stark nature of the landscape).

Perhaps this comes from living more in the country. For a long time now, we have been away from the hustle and bustle of a big city for our everyday existence. Before the comforts of Rabbit Hollow among the orchards and vineyards and overlooking Okanagan Lake we were in Charlevoix, up the St.Lawrence River. Before that we lived in Banff, along a creek bed and the edge of the Banff Springs golf course, where elk and wolves played. We have been spoiled with the wonders of nature. Simon, our German Shorthaired Pointer, has never lived in a fenced yard. Would it be easier to handle the weirdness of February if we lived somewhere more urban? I would love to hear your opinions.

As for the theme of romance which is supposed to save us from oblivion in the dead of winter?

Romance, by lardacil, from DeviantArt

Well, I believe that romance, like most things, needs sustenance year round to survive. So, how about a chocolate dessert just because it’s Tuesday? How about a sexy outfit on a date night with your sweetheart just because you had a good hair day? (You might as well make the most of it!) Life is short, and it is meant to be enjoyed. Let yourself be swept away in the moment… any moment.

In case you need encouragement, I have posted a recipe for Lemon Pudding Cake. You can be intimate and share from a big dish, or you can let everyone have their own space and make it in ramekins.

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