Category Archives: cooking

Surviving, one bake at a time

I’m going on a bit of a rant – if you’d just like the foodie part of this tale, skip over the section in italics. I won’t mind, really.

It’s been 65 days since the covid-19 pandemic was officially declared. Hubbie and I went into self-isolation then, having already started to prepare for some of the challenges.

We are movie fans; you’d think we would have seen the signs. But then the characters in the movie never see the signs until it’s too late to do anything.

I’m a mostly optimistic person. Our lifestyle was already one that involved trying to be grateful and make the most of moments, so we looked for the positives:

  • Canada is a relatively safe place, with universal health care and plenty of infrastructure
  • We live in a smaller community where there were initially no outbreaks
  • Spring is traditionally slow for our business, so the initial lack of work was manageable

Following the movie analogy though, everyone knows that a Polly Anna story doesn’t sell. And Mother Nature loves that guy Murphy.

You know the rest of the story after this point – it hit the fan. Once we passed into the third month of this with no real end in sight, I decided that I need to regroup. I can’t listen to more news or read more articles or see more memes – I need a chance for my brain to focus on something else, something that involves an accomplishment. A bit of that will refuel me for what comes next.

I am so very thankful one of my passions is something as essential as food. It’s easy to lose myself in the garden or the kitchen.

At Rabbit Hollow we have the garden and the kitchen together in summer!

Spring is the beginning of gardening season – my grubby green thumbs could not be luckier. I have weeded my heart out and transplanted all my seedlings, the first time ever on schedule. But the garden takes months to deliver its bounty.

My real saving grace has been baking. Okay, and working out – ‘cause someone has to eat all those goodies once they come out of the oven 😁

I have to give a shout-out here, to Matthew & Erika and their team at Bread Ahead Bakery in London. I stumbled upon them early in the lockdown and quickly became a “breadaheader”, watching their live Instagram baking tutorials. I learned about sourdough and pastries, got recipes for numerous classics, and found a way to mark my days with the accomplishments of treats to share with my guy, and anyone else whose doorstep was willing.

Sourdough – and amaretti
Sourdough – and cinnamon buns
Sourdough, and chocolate chip cookies (are you getting the theme here?)

It may sound silly that following baking videos kept me sane, but it’s true. The sense of community I feel with food is truly magical. Cooking and eating allows us to experience all our senses, and sharing food is the most basic gesture of gratitude and respect.

What is my point to all this rambling? Honestly, I’m not sure yet. But I do know that food brings people together – even when they have to be apart.

I wish I had the finances to provide meals or even snacks for those less fortunate. All I can manage is to offer smiles to friends and loved ones, and share my passion in hopes it will spark someone else’s fire. At least in sharing we have a sense of camaraderie. If we are all in this together for the pandemic, why not be in something together that offers hope and a smile?

So, I’ll get up tomorrow and decide what I’m cooking (after I work out 😉) Tonight my chef hubby and I filmed our dinner prep on Facebook and it felt good, to wave at friends and share little tips. Life finds a way to persevere.

We will keep going, a few weeks at a time, just like they tell us now. Where will it lead? To the table, for another meal, more sustenance. Each season has its purpose. I have faith that in practicing my skills I will find a way through.

Does it seem logical to anyone else that if Murphy’s Law is consistent, then if anything is going to go right, it will do so at the best possible moment? As Matthew kept saying in all those tutorials, “Practice, practice, practice!”

Busy baking away in my first online cooking class. Boy, were those doughnuts good! 😋

Who knew we could all bake so much?

My social media feed has gone from various memes of silly behaviour and random family updates with the odd video of dishes that have melted cheese and bacon… to a stream of cinnamon buns, cookies, sourdough, cakes, doughnuts… well, and then about 4 pm it’s virtual happy hour but that’s another story altogether. Who knew so many people liked to bake things from scratch?

baking montage (2)

I know many of us are getting tired of being cooped up at home, not able to go out for coffee or go to the gym. The routines for most people of being at school or work most days have evaporated. It was a fun holiday for the first few days, but now that our bottoms are numb from days of binge-watching all of Netflix and Disney+, we feel like we need to accomplish something. Anything.

I wistfully pondered the concept of buying a Masterclass membership to follow Gordon Ramsay on his journey to teach me sauces, pasta making and all other manners of cooking a beautiful meal. But then the reality of keeping the money to pay the bills that will come while I’m still not using those skills to make any more money came crashing down around me. Besides, I don’t need the added pressure of him yelling at me.Gordon Ramsay yelling

However, this is no time to wallow, we need to keep our spirits up. So, here’s a few fun baking friends I found out there who can help us stay positive. Perhaps I ought to have tempered these links with home workouts, so we don’t all end up looking like couch potatoes? Nah; for now I’ll stick with walking the dog more often.

Borough Market Bread Ahead Bakery in London rose to the occasion quickly (pun intended). They started hosting live cooking demos on Instagram, featuring many of the classic recipes from their Baking School cookbook. Very educational if you’re into bread products. The videos only stay up in IG Stories for 24 hours but they are replaying them through April, and you can get the ingredients on their website. You can also buy a copy of their full book, or the e-book they created for these recipes.

If you have kids, you might want to look up the hashtag #KitchenBuddies . Jamie Oliver’s Buddy_Oliver Kitchen Buddiesson Buddy started doing IG videos as well, and together he and his dad are encouraging families to cook. Jamie has also done some posts offering recipes with what you have on hand, like pasta made in just a few minutes with only flour and water. I offer a link to his recipes online which is quite extensive.

If you want something more formal, I stumbled upon a resource through a site I’ve mentioned before that is rich with foodie info. The Kitchn’s Cooking School offers 20 lessons, starting with knife skills. They include links to recipes that help you practice what each lesson teaches, and different skill levels for you to choose. It dates back to 2014 but all the information is timeless.

Millionaires-shortbread

Want something more decadent? How about something called Millionaire’s Shortbread ! I first had this in Scotland, and being a fan of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander tales, I was overjoyed when it was included in the Outlander Kitchen batch of recipes (and what a good batch it is, too – I can vouch for many of them personally). This one takes a bit of time as one layer has to set, but we’ve got plenty of that these days, don’t we?

David Lebovitz cocktail

In case you’re put off by the pressure of having to cook more, already cooking all meals and not being able to eat out at the moment, well then how about a cocktail? David Lebovitz, our foodie friend in Paris, has just launched a cocktail book and to celebrate he;s been offering recipes as part of his virtual happy hour, live on Instagram. There is also information on his website.

However you are managing, I do hope you’re taking time to enjoy meals at home. Pull out those dishes and table linens that you never have time to find. Make hot chocolate from scratch for the kids. Have a nightcap if there is a bottle of something suitable in your liquor cupboard. When we get back to the crazy pace of what we called normal, we can look back on this and say, “Wasn’t it great when we had all that time to share?”

 

 

 

 

 

A Bit of Razzle Dazzle

Sundays. The day of the week that is all about quality time. In our house, that often means time around the table, with homemade delicacies. This time of year those delicacies involve part of the wonderful bounty we enjoy.

At the moment we are blessed with an embarrassing amount of raspberries. I could lie under the bush and just let them fall in my mouth, but I think the neighbours would talk. So instead, I made raspberry financiers.

These delightful mouthfuls look, smell and taste decadent but they are amazingly easy to make. They also work well with delicate fruit like berries. Many recipes will end up looking like a dog’s breakfast when you mix in berries (no offence to my dog, but presentation isn’t her thing). Here, you can place the berries on top of the batter and they will bake right in.

They are not a diet item. I bet the calories you get from inhaling the fumes of the butter browning are enough to blow most diets. But trust me, these are worth having a cheat day. Share them around, package some up if you have to and drop them off to a friend.

Tomorrow I’m making Cherry Clafoutis, to use up some of the cherries we picked. The peaches have only just started, so there is no rush to bake with them yet, thankfully. There isn’t enough time to work out and cover all those treats!

Happy Sunday!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

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