Monthly Archives: January 2013

Need an excuse to get together? This weekend is it!

snack buffet Happy Gourmand

I know, you can all hardly wait, as it has finally arrived and soon we will be able to celebrate with the usual food and drink that accompanies the whole event…

Great ideas from the folks at – check them out!

Did you think I was speaking of the Superbowl? I suppose that could be a reasonable assumption, but I was actually thinking of that other big event this weekend – Groundhog Day. It really is a big thing in those locales where there is a resident rodent to “prognosticate” on the status of the coming spring. In a country where weather is a large part of our daily water-cooler talk and even our identity, it is surprising that we do not make more of this effort to encourage spring along! After all, for those of us who have not already escaped to some warmer clime to fend off the aches in our bones from the biting cold, this is one bright spot. February has no other holiday in it, for goodness sake!

Okay, so maybe I am taking those beer ads too seriously (you know, the ones that say we have two seasons – July and winter?!) But in the doldrums of the month that is the shortest but often seems the longest, I for one think any excuse for a celebration is a reasonable one. I plan to watch the Superbowl, and I plan to celebrate Groundhog Day too. Valentines’ Day is good for a bit of warmth if you can beat the commercial superficiality out of it, and if I can find some folks who want to come over for a Mardi Gras Party, then before I know it spring will be here (whether the little rodent sees his shadow or not!)

 groundhog day Happy Gourmand

I went to visit the website for the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, where the whole week’s events are posted by the hour, from the pancake breakfast to the Punxy Phil Anything Goes Chili and Wings Cook Off (I kid you not, these are real events. I guess you need sustenance in between visiting the weather centre exhibits and the weddings at Phil’s chapel, not to mention the Prognosticators’ Ball and the midnight showing of the Bill Murray movie.) I found this news most encouraging, and so I say why argue? If you haven’t been celebrating this special holiday, you are 121 years behind good old Phil in Pennsylvania, and centuries behind Christian tradition that recognized Candlemas as a time to begin events of the coming year (all the candles were blessed at this time).Candlemas tradition Happy Gourmand

Whether you prefer a serious celebration of the coming year, or a recognition of the fact that we are halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, or even just that a relatively well-fed rodent bothered to poke his head up and tip his hat in our direction… well, any of those events on February 2 is a good way to start a new month and to continue enjoying this life. Perhaps to keep it exciting, I will plan the menu once I see the forecast – stew if winter is staying, and seafood if spring is coming. Either way, with some good friends in attendance, it will be a wonderful celebration, I am sure. Cheers to you!

… Comes Around

this is part 2 of my earlier post, What Goes Around… where I offer a way out of the “food guilt” that we foodies may feel amidst the mass production of a plethora of foods and the slippery slope between following every new trend and being true to your food.

lemons and olive oil Happy GourmandI am a believer in moderation and practicality. For most people, the idea of living within the concept of the 100 mile diet is not something they are willing to do. I know I enjoy lemons and coffee and olive oil too much to say I will swear off eating them. My husband says anything that is called a diet puts him off immediately (chefs don’t like being limited).

I like the concept of Slow Food, that says you support local producers and encourage traditions to continue as part of everyday life in working towards a sustainable food community. That can include supporting the local store that sells  organic lemons and fair trade coffee and  artisan olive oil, as they are likely the place that also sells local strawberries (instead of the imported ones shipped by the pallet-load) and other seasonal fare.strawberry fields

I also think that education is crucial, and it happens to be another Slow Food pillar. We all need to understand our food – where it comes from, how it grows, what connection it has to our history and our future. If the only way we see food is wrapped in plastic, already portioned, then our education suffers from a lack of information. Children should know that bacon comes from a pig, not a grocery store. When they understand the pigs can live a happy life then maybe they don’t need to think they should be vegetarians because we are cruel to animals. If there is no sharing of traditional celebrations or recipes and their preparation, then our palates suffer from a lack of distinction in flavour. Grandma’s recipes should live for generations, and not just because they were published. Often the secret is in knowing just how to prepare a dish, or season it, so that it has that special something. We all deserve to be thrilled with our own food.

Maybe I did play a part in creating the monster. Now that it has reared its ugly head, though, there seems no reason I can’t be of help in getting a lasso around its neck so we can train it to work with us instead of against us. If sharing my enthusiasm can include the encouragement for others to learn the whole picture and not just the processed one, then perhaps we can reach a happy medium. Everyone deserves to have access to good, clean, fair food – food that tastes good, and is free from unnecessary chemicals, and for which the producer receives a fair price. All these advantages are then passed along to the consumer, who is aware and supports all of these tenets.

I am fortunate enough to live in a region where there are many people connected to the land, and happy to share their enthusiasm and their knowledge. Slow Food is a new organization in our community, but its philosophy is already alive and well here in the Okanagan, and I am proud to be a part of it. There is an orchard down the road from our house that is owned by the same family who planted it one hundred years ago (in the Canadian west that’s a long time!)Okanagan peaches Happy Gourmand They sell the fruit at the fruit stand on the corner, and the taste of fruit picked that morning simply does not compare to the same variety packaged in crates and shipped and sold in a major chain store. In season, the fruit stand prices are close and sometimes even cheaper than the stores, but I for one am willing to pay a bit more for the taste of fresh Okanagan sunshine packaged that way. Maybe the extra pennies are like penance for my foodie sins, but I don’t mind – it’s worth every delicious bite!

Do you have a favourite local food or traditional recipe? What is a delicacy where you live or where you come from?? I’d love to hear your comments. If you prefer Facebook, you can join me thereslow soup too!

If you are interested to learn more about Slow Food, you can check out their fabulous website with many stories. There are convivia (local chapters) in over 150 countries, so I’m sure there are like-minded souls near you. If you live in my neighbourhood, you can follow Slow Food Thompson Okanagan on Facebook.

What Goes Around…

All gourmands aren't this round, but we do tend to be this satisfied :)

All gourmands aren’t this round, but we do tend to be this satisfied 🙂

I write about the passion I have for food – its tastes and textures, the variations that come with different spices or cultural evolution, and how it affects the rest of my day. All this seems normal to me but every once in a while I do remember that there are people who don’t relate to food in the same way. For some, food is really just a means to an end; eating a meal is just a fuel stop. But I don’t think that means they don’t enjoy the experience, perhaps the company or the memory that might go with a food item. After all, Tim Hortons TV commercials wouldn’t be nearly as poignant if they just showed people drinking coffee without showing us where they are or who they share it with, would they?

So am I a food snob ? Did the enthusiasm from foodies like me inspire the market to offer exotic ingredients on a more regular basis?? Am I to blame for the impression we have as a society that the value of food is only as much as the latest grocery flyer says? This may sound like faulty logic but I have started to wonder if we are reaping the harvest sown from our own greed.

When I was a kid, many of the foods that are imported from faraway places were rare, expensive, and only seen at certain times of year.

papaya, coconut, kiwi, mango, even cherries were a delicacy when I was growing up.

papaya, coconut, kiwi, mango, even cherries were a delicacy when I was growing up.

Gradually it got easier for those foods to become more common on grocery shelves; the world got smaller. And then stores got bigger. And then prices dropped and you could buy a pineapple for $1.99 or kiwi 3 for a dollar. Pretty soon it was cheaper to buy a plastic box of strawberries from Mexico or Chile than it was to buy the ones from the local farmer’s market. Costco strawberriesNow you can get just about anything you want – ingredients or prepared food – at Costco and places like it. So, does this go against the philosophy of supporting your local farmers? Am I committing a foodie sin if I shop at those big box places??

(I’ll continue with part 2 of this post tomorrow. In the meantime, I’d love your comments!)

Tasty Memories

saving memories is like gathering recipes for a scrapbook...

saving memories is like gathering recipes for a scrapbook…

Today is my goddaughter and namesake, Julia Kristin King’s 21st birthday. In honour of that auspicious occasion I wanted to post a commentary on how food is such a rich part of our memory banks. Traditions form part of that, with classic dishes at holiday time and family favourites forming a part of your young palate. As you grow and travel, more flavours are added, and the experiences you share around a table throughout your life become a very important part of who you are. If you’re like me and other gourmands, those memories become something you cherish and work to share as a passion. My trip to South Africa many years ago when I first met Julia and reunited with her mom, one of my first travel companions, is one of my favourite experiences for many reasons, food being a major one.

Table Mountain rises behind me, without its "tablecloth" of clouds on this lovely day

Table Mountain rises behind me, without its “tablecloth” of clouds on this lovely day

South Africa is a nation rich with food history, being a conglomerate of so many cultures. Its position as a central point in the Dutch spice trade in the 17th and 18th centuries enhanced its exotic nature, as ships brought all manner of foodstuffs to the settlers who had come with their own cultures. Europeans from the Netherlands, France, Belgium, and Germany came and contributed their food and wine cultures full of cream sauces, stews, roasted meat and more. Then there were the Malays with tastes reminiscent of India, full of aromatic spices and hot curries. The abundance of seafood combined with the range animals settlers encouraged provided a rich bounty and the cuisine flourished with all manner of flavours.

I tasted cured meat called biltong, a variation on our beef jerky that is wonderful. I had fish that I had never seen or heard of before, under a starry sky that contained constellations unfamiliar to me as well. Such is the thrill of eating in another hemisphere.  I savoured Cape Brandy Pudding at the top of Table Mountain, and felt as though I had received a worthy prize for my efforts indeed. I also had the simple Milk Tart and could imagine the simple life of early Dutch farmers working the land.

the water was really cold, but the company warmed my soul

the water was really cold, but the company warmed my soul

Even picnics were incredible in a new country – I had pizza and local wine on the beach at Cape Town and dipped my toes into the South Atlantic Ocean for the first time. Food on a paper plate never tasted so good! We went wine touring as well, and had a picnic at Boschendal wine estate, on sprawling grounds with ponds, geese and beautiful shade trees.

Boschendal Wine Estate is famous not only for its wine, but also for its picnic lunches, and its classic Cape Dutch architecture

Boschendal Wine Estate is famous not only for its wine, but also for its picnic lunches, and its classic Cape Dutch architecture

Of course, anyone who has travelled and eaten a special meal knows of what I speak – the same food never tastes as magic as it does in the midst of that memory. But the thrill of new memories sends us out again, back to old haunts and in search of new ones.

I shall see my pal and my goddaughter again this spring, when I visit them in the U.K. for Julia’s 21st birthday party and her parents’ 25th wedding anniversary. Nearly 30 years of friendship across the planet will also be celebrated, and I’m sure I will have more recipes to add to this collection!


What is healthy food?

It’s the New Year. We’ve all made resolutions and many of them will be about food. Eating healthy is a topic that you see in the news, on the internet and even in restaurants. But what does eating healthy mean? Are we all marching to the same drummer on that idea? I would love to know your thoughts on this, because I must admit, I find it confusing…

I have often shaken my head about all the kinds of diets you can follow now; not only are there vegetarians, vegans, fruitarians, paleo and South Beach and Atkins people but then there are diet plans and supplements as well. Do you have to be on a diet to be healthy? Or does dieting mean that you are NOT healthy?

I started thinking about this blog post when I saw a post on Facebook from someone I follow.


“Pass The Butter … Please. This is interesting . .. . Margarine was originally manufactured to fatten turkeys. When it killed the turkeys, the people who had put all the money into the research wanted a payback so they put their heads together to figure out what to do with this product to get their money back. It was a white substance with no food appeal so they added the yellow colouring and sold it to people to use in place of butter. How do you like it? They have come out with some clever new flavourings…. DO YOU KNOW.. The difference between margarine and butter? Both have the same amount of calories. Butter is slightly higher in saturated fats at 8 grams; compared to 5 grams for margarine. Eating margarine can increase heart disease in women by 53% over eating the same amount of butter, according to a recent Harvard Medical Study. Eating butter increases the absorption of many other nutrients in other foods. Butter has many nutritional benefits where margarine has a few and only because they are added! Butter tastes much better than margarine and it can enhance the flavours of other foods. Butter has been around for centuries where margarine has been around for less than 100 years . And now, for Margarine.. Very High in Trans fatty acids. Triples risk of coronary heart disease … Increases total cholesterol and LDL (this is the bad cholesterol) and lowers HDL cholesterol, (the good cholesterol) Increases the risk of cancers up to five times.. Lowers quality of breast milk Decreases immune response. Decreases insulin response. And here’s the most disturbing fact… HERE IS THE PART THAT IS VERY INTERESTING! Margarine is but ONE MOLECULE away from being PLASTIC… and shares 27 ingredients with PAINT. These facts alone were enough to have me avoiding margarine for life and anything else that is hydrogenated (this means hydrogen is added, changing the molecular structure of the substance). Open a tub of margarine and leave it open in your garage or shaded area. Within a couple of days you will notice a couple of things: * no flies, not even those pesky fruit flies will go near it (that should tell you something) * it does not rot or smell differently because it has no nutritional value ; nothing will grow on it. Even those teeny weeny microorganisms will not a find a home to grow.
Why? Because it is nearly plastic . Would you melt your Tupperware and spread that on your toast?
you used to have to squeeze the colour tablet into the margarine to turn it yellow.

you used to have to squeeze the colour tablet into the margarine to turn it yellow.

Isn’t social media a powerful communication tool?  I haven’t been able to verify all the details but you get the idea. Margarine may not be one molecule from plastic, but it really doesn’t attract flies. It was not created to feed turkeys however, but rather was commissioned by Napolean III in France in the 1860’s for use by the armed forces and lower classes, and was popularized during the World Wars with dairy shortages that made butter expensive and rare. Did you know that margarine was banned in Canada until 1948 when the Supreme Court of Canada allowed its sale in stores.

There are pages on Facebook dedicated to all kinds of eating. I enjoy one called 100 Days of Real Food which at least has fun showcasing a diet that contains no processed food for her family. I think if you’re going to cut anything out, even if it’s junk, you should still remember to keep your sense of humour.

I don’t need convincing that the natural state of butter is a better choice than the more processed substance called margarine. I like the taste; if I want something with less fat, I’ll use olive oil, thank you. But I’m not going to point and stare at someone buying margarine, either. So imagine my surprise to see this new trend announced in a New York Times article, a system in restaurants that denotes approval from a panel of nutritionists. It’s called SPE, which stands for a Latin phrase that means “health through food”, and they say the basis of their concept is great flavours. So far, so good, until they explain that butter and cream are ingredients they won’t include. Say what?? I’m  with French Chef Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin in New York, who says he doesn’t believe in demonizing ingredients. Or as Julia Child was known to say, “if you’re afraid to use butter, use cream”. I’ll close with another of her quotes that I think shows a healthy attitude and sense of humour:

The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.

this is as close as we get to diet food at Rabbit Hollow. It comes from the garden in the summer,

this is as close as we get to diet food at Rabbit Hollow. It comes from the garden in the summer.

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