Author Archives: happygourmand

Daddy’s 👧

From the beginning, I was a Daddy’s girl. My little brother and my mom were close, and my dad and I had a special bond I was his Princess.

 

I inherited many character traits from my father but being a foodie wasn’t one of them. Rather, I helped make him a foodie with some of my adventures.

When I was a kid, we ate simply. Both my parents were from the Prairies where meat and potatoes are the norm. Exotic spices were not a part of our pantry until my teen years. A fried egg sandwich was a funky dish.

The most unusual childhood dinner I remember was finan haddie, from a can. It was served with toast, and canned tomatoes in a bowl on the side. My dad liked it. I thought it was fun – different tastes and textures than meat and potatoes. My mom told me years later she was embarrassed to serve it, because it was mostly out of a can.

Back before there were so many snack choices, it was easier to have a favourite. We made popcorn in a pot on the stove, shaking it so as not to burn the kernels. To this day I don’t go to the movies without having popcorn. Our other favourite was Cheezies; when I spent a year in France during my university studies I was over the moon when my dad sent me a bag of them in a care package.

Gradually our tastes expanded. I learned of many new ingredients and techniques from my European travels, and my dad sampled new dishes as my mom expanded her cooking repertoire and they ventured out to different restaurants. By the time I was a young adult, my dad was even cooking meals.

Some of my best memories with my dad were our Friday night dinners when we both lived in Vancouver. I would go to his apartment and we would whip up whatever new dish he had discovered. I would bring wine and dessert, and we would talk till the wee hours, trying to solve the problems of the world.

I wish we had more Friday nights. I wish I had been able to have coffee with him more often. I wish we could still go to a movie and share popcorn. But most of all I just miss his company.

At least I have all those memories. Every time I eat all those foods, I smile and think of all the times we shared.

Earl and KPL - dinner in Maui

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy.

 

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No Dear, it’s not a phase

When I was a kid, I was weird.

  • I liked wearing a flowery embroidered purple tunic with just about anything (it was my favourite top).
  • I wore horizontally striped socks with skirts.
  • I carried a book bag years before any of my schoolmates. What I thought was cool never synced up with what was considered cool.
  • I was a complete clutz, not coordinated at all.
  • I was taller than most of the boys in my class, and I didn’t wear a bra until senior high school.

My mom always let me be me. She would check with me as I got older sometimes, maybe offering another alternative for consideration, but she supported my final decisions.

Mostly, I liked being weird. I have always enjoyed quirky things, new adventures; they attracted me. It’s a lot of why I became such a foodie, wanting to try new tastes and understand how to incorporate them. Becoming a sommelier was a perfect fit – it’s a bit of a nerdy pursuit, learning all that history and geography and tasting wine but then spitting it out.

When I took up gardening, I found another weird way to express myself. Just like that embroidered top, the flowers that attract me are unique:

 

Crown Imperial

I can’t remember the name of this one, but my mom suggested it 😄

Lily of the Valley

 

For some people, all this is just too much of a difference. It can scare them away. I have been very fortunate to find some wonderful friends over the years, but often I’ve encountered folks who just don’t know what to do with me, or how to respond to all my weirdness.

I remember asking my mom one particularly tough day at about the age of 15, “All of this is just a phase, right? It will pass, I’ll grow out of it, won’t I?” Without hesitating, she answered, “No dear, it’s not a phase. You’ll have to learn to live with it.”

I think back then I figured she was kidding. It took me another few years to realize that I was born NOT to fit in. The more I tried to be a part of the cool crowd, the more they disliked me. I should have connected the dots, knowing that my tastes were different. Once I understood that others who had similar (equally weird) tastes were my tribe, then I stopped trying to explain the differences as a way of being accepted.

On this Mother’s Day as I strolled through my garden, and as I crafted the olive-wood smoked oil & vintage balsamic vinaigrette for our salad with dinner, I was thinking of my mom and her encouragement of my true self.

She was always a traditional Mom, making great cookies and putting notes in my lunch and sewing my Hallowe’en costumes… but the best thing my mom did for me was help me understand who I really am.

Thanks, Mom. Cheers!

 

 

All Ears

Easter is a beautiful celebration, full of colour, warmth and love. The decadence of spring signifies the transition from the bleakness of winter just as Easter brings the end of Lent. People seem to breathe more deeply at Easter.

This year with Earth Day following Easter I felt a certain symmetry. My reverence for life was reaffirmed in my love for our planet.

At Rabbit Hollow we have a natural affinity to Easter – bunnies are our thing. Beatrix Potter’s Peter is the perfect mascot, with a sense of spirit and (once learned) a sense of responsibility.

Rabbits are a good symbol for us – we are all about foraging, nibbling a little here and there, and enjoying the love and abundance of family and the community at large.

We don’t have the wild bunnies here anymore that lay around when we first moved in, but our friendly sentinels greet me daily in our garden. I honour their presence every Easter. How? Well, with chocolate of course!

(Okay, maybe a Peep or two for food measure)

Especially with it being Earth Day, I wanted to honour all creatures. Ella and I had extra outside time today. I planted more bulbs and watered the early seeds, all the while thinking nurturing thoughts. I was thrilled to see a coyote out midday, cruising the field, and we spotted two deer in the orchard. Everyone was making the most of the day.

This evening as we sat down for our tea and a wee treat, I turned to my Easter chocolate. Are you like me – feet first? My Foodie book of etiquette says it’s disrespectful to eat a bunny’s ears first.

It was a lovely day, a wonderful weekend. I look forward to more warm spring days, so the bees can keep working and the blossoms can bring fruit. There is much to do if we are to help keep our planet going, and the renewal of spring is the perfect reminder to inspire me.

May your garden grow well, may the sun warm your face and may you have time to stop and smell the flowers.

Believe there is a great power silently working all things for good, behave yourself and never mind the rest. – Beatrix Potter

Just the thingamajig for Dolly

My Dad used this expression when I was a kid. I would help him in his workshop, holding tools in place or handing them over from the bench as he tinkered. Before I could do much in the kitchen with its hot stove and high counters, I could make myself useful with Daddy.  My post today is about good thingamajigs for a foodie, but if you’ll let me digress, I’ll give you the background for my silly title…

Learning the myriad of tools in my Dad’s workshop was an exciting challenge. For example, did you know there are three different kinds of screws and screwdrivers? The square one, called a Robertson, is named after the Canadian fellow who invented it? (It is generally regarded as the best for its ability to tighten well.) Screws are different than bolts; bolts get tightened with nuts, using a wrench (which the British call a spanner; hence the expression of having a spanner in the works – as in, things are stuck, not working right.) I loved understanding how it all fit together.

I remember asking him where the expression came from (“who’s Dolly? and what does she need a thingamajig for?”). He chuckled, and said it was something my Ovi used to say in his workshop (his dad – Ovi is Icelandic for Grampa) I would learn years later that the original expression didn’t use the word “thingamajig”. I’m sure you can imagine what guys in their workshops might say, and when I tell you the urban dictionary’s definition for the expression is “a good fit, a perfect match”… well, you can figure the rest out.

Fast forward to my later years, spending more time in the kitchen, and my love for a good gadget is still alive and well. I don’t like silly things, but a tool that is designed for a specific task and does it well deserves appreciation. My sense of curiosity is piqued when I see nifty new things. A recent stop at our local kitchen and houseware store, Lakehouse Home Store, did not disappoint.

⇐ It’s always good to have proper cleaning utensils, and now that we have travel mugs, metal straws and all kinds of re-useable containers, these brushes could come in handy.

 

 

⇒Silicone is the 21st century all-purpose material for many kitchen gadgets. This wreath shape could be used for many purposes, adding air circulation and reducing bottom heat. It sure beats jury-rigging a similar set-up with ramekins or racks.

 

⇐I was intrigued by the concept of a self-heating butter knife, possibly because that morning my hubbie had used up all the softened butter and put out a hard piece – not good for spreading on fresh bread.

 

 

If you don’t have an instant-read thermometer, you need to get one. This model is compact and easy-to-use, and comes at a competitive price. I can’t believe I made bread and cakes without one for years.

 

⇐ While not so much a kitchen item, this bottle holder solves my never-ending dilemma of always having too many things in my hands. I wondered if perhaps I could use it while retrieving things from the fridge…

 

 

 

I love to visit kitchen stores not just at home but also whenever we travel, and often there is one near a farmer’s market or central foodie neighbourhood. In Seattle, a perfect example of this exists in Sur La Table. This foodie mecca is adjacent to the famous Pike’s Place Market. Vancouver has a small store on Granville Island, where its popular market exists, but my favourite pick in the city by the sea is Gourmet Warehouse, a place that lives up to its name. A word to the wise: make sure you check the rules where you park, as you are sure to be in there a while, and tickets in Vancouver are expensive.

In Calgary, where I grew up, the foodie hangout is a bit on its own. Over the years there have been lovely pastry shops nearby, but I am sad to report they have not survived. (If anyone knows of a Danish bakery anywhere in North America that makes kringles with a custard filling, I’ll add it to my foodie bucket list!) But parking is easy when you visit The Cookbook Co. Cooks and it’s a treasure trove of goodies. When you’re done shopping, wander to the back of the store and you’ll find Metrovino, a delightful wine shop that can help you decide what to drink with dinner.

On my foodie bucket list of places to visit is an amazing shop in Paris, E. Dehillerin. I was in there once years ago, and picked up a few lovely mementos, but I hope to return and buy a copper pot. (Their English website is charmingly awkward in its text, but the pictures will fuel your dreams.)

A good tool is like a friend. Cooking is often a solitary task, but with my collection of nifty things gathered over the years I feel as though I’m surrounded by soulmates, even if no one is coming for dinner.

Have you got a favourite tool or gadget? Do you have a place you like to go to find things? Please share!

The Staff of Life

 

I love bread. I find it satisfying, intimidating, humble and rewarding, all at the same time. As a young person cooking, bread was a daunting chapter in any cookbook. It was not until recently that I screwed up the courage to take on that food central to survival for so long; the staff of life.

In my teen cooking years, I was thrilled to discover I could veer onto the side road known as “Quick Breads”, and worked up my confidence with Soda Bread, Zucchini Bread, Baking Powder Biscuits and cornmeal muffins.

One of my childhood friends was German, and her mom did a lot of hearty baking. She had an old family recipe for bread rolls that she made once a month. If the universe was smiling on me, I would happen to be stopping at my friend’s house after school, and we would be allowed to have a warm bun with butter. It was my first taste of Nirvana.

buns with butter

I have been working with my sourdough starter for a year and a half now, and I am still humbled every time I make a loaf. Just when I think I am the master, the starter behaves differently or the weather changes or the flour combination seems not work as well… it’s all edible, but I am far from the works of art I see on Instagram and in my cooking magazines. Those elusive bubbles and the intricate scoring patterns are like a foreign language – one in which I have only learned a few greetings and a few cuss words, like any other novice.

Yesterday, though, I think I got back to the heart of the matter. I made a recipe that I turned into a sort of pull-apart loaf and some rolls, and it was divine. It was an enriched yeast dough that I just happened to add some starter into, so it was truly a mish-mash of ingredients and techniques. But never mind, it worked. It tasted good. Even my chef hubbie said so!

I think perhaps that my interpretation of bread being “the staff of life” involves a more complex sort of survival than just sustenance. The shared experience of breaking bread is truly part of the magic for me. The love shared for the meal is also something I crave. (Like they say, we cannot live by bread alone.)

So I’m rejuvenated for another day, another effort, another bake. Leaving more crumbs, in case there is someone else out there, struggling along the same road. I posted my Kindred Spirit Milk Rolls, as a record of my progress and a message for those souls who want a taste of the magic.

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