Category Archives: education

Blogger confession – time for a few Hail Marys and a new post

I have been a bad blogger. It’s been 7 months since my last post. I did keep writing my weekly Castanet column and I have put up more recipes, but I haven’t been present and for that I apologize. With a new year starting, I am resolved to post regularly again. So, here is the new beginning.

My new approach is this: How about a “Foodie Thought of the Day” ? Maybe it will be short and sweet – an image of something I found or a recipe I’m trying. Sometimes I’ll aim for more of a pondering post, with commentary on a topic. But every day I do think of food, so all I have to do is share that here, with you.

foodie-thought-of-the-day-banner

I’m hoping you’ll help me out… tell me if I’m crazy, or lucked out and found something you like. Complain if you think I ramble too much! Complain if you don’t think I’m sharing enough.

So, here it goes: 2017, the year of foodie tidbits!

And just so you don’t think I’m jamming out on the first 2 days of the year here are the ideas already in my calendar:

  • I read a great little article in Saveur Magazine by a father who taught his daughters to cook at an early age. They both embraced the kitchen as a fun place; one of things they came up with was “Fakesgiving”, a celebration dinner like Thanksgiving that is held once a month, so everyone can enjoy those fancy or exotic dishes or try something new more often than just once a year. I’m going to have Fakesgiving dinners this year!
  • I had a persimmon for the first time this morning, inspired by an insistent vendor at one of my fave foodie haunts, the Granville Island Market. I highly recommend them – they are tangy, sweet, with a smooth texture and a beautiful exotic flavour. In case you’re skeptical, check out these benefits!

persimmons-why-they-are-good

See you tomorrow! Eat, drink and be merry 🙂

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Jamaican Foodie Paradise

Whenever my husband Martin and I go on holidays, we are excited to try new food experiences. The last few years in Jamaica we have been lazy and relegated our enthusiasm to within the walls of the resort. We did enjoy trying local fruits, and traditional dishes like curried goat, jerk chicken and gizzadas (coconut tarts), but this year I wanted to kick things up a notch and rub elbows with some local foodies. I did an online search and found Zimbali Retreat, iPhone download Feb 22 2016 430a small property in the hills above Negril that offered a demo cooking class and tour of their organic farm garden. It seemed right up our alley! I was excited and invited a couple we know who are also foodies. They had shared our Vegas experiences so I figured they would like this taste of Jamaica. We had no idea just how much fun we were going to have…

We arrived at the gate after a bumpy ride up a narrow road that bordered sugar cane plantations and an old stone church.   iPhone download Feb 22 2016 427Martin was afraid we were going to have to carry the car or abandon it if the potholes got any bigger or the road got any narrower. The sugar cane stalks knocked along the side of the car as we drove through plantation land, and as we mounted the hill a local dog lying at the edge of the road didn’t even look up. It was only a half hour drive, but I felt as though I’d been transported to another place.  A short walk down a palm-covered pathway revealed mahogany beams that covered a cozy kitchen and airy sitting room, all overlooking the farm below. I felt a bit like I was visiting the Swiss Family Robinson on their deserted island! We were served a refreshing sorrel ginger drink while we cooled off. Just as we finished our last sip our tour guide arrived.

Clifford, who has been at Zimbali since the beginning (9 years ago), led us over much of the 6 acre terrain, stopping every hundred steps or so to show us another plant, most of which provided some benefit for the kitchen. We saw banana and coconut trees, pineapple plants, Caribbean oranges and grapefruits, June plums, star fruit, lemongrass, annatto, turmeric and ginger roots, breadfruit, all kinds of pumpkins and zucchini squash, beans, and then the crowning glory – noni fruit. This fruit is highly regarded as having great healing powers; the juice is said to be a cure-all. The bees on the farm love it too, said Clifford. Noni bloosom honey is his favourite.

Clifford showed us the right way to crack open a coconut (hit the 3 corners of the outer shell), and he told us about using cinnamon leaves in cooking. We learned that the bark of the mahogany trees was used to make the rich reddish-brown dye still common in Caribbean textiles. He showed us the massive African tulip trees taking over wild sections of the jungle, and how the rain brings on mango season (in May), when the fruit is so plentiful it sits in piles by side of the roads! The gardener in me was trying valiantly to remember everything he said as I tasted and smelled and strained my neck to see in every direction, absorbing every detail.

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a June plum tree, with the blossoms that will turn into the refreshing tangy fruit often used for juice

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here Clifford showed us the mahogany tree. One of the staff is returning to the kitchen with oranges.

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work on the terraced section of the garden, where squash and bananas are being planted

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annatto seeds from an achiote bush, used in cooking to impart colour and a slightly nutty & peppery taste.

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fresh turmeric root – from that brown patch. They grow ginger too, in the same way.

the noni tree, a source of great nutrients. Sometimes called uglifruit.

Martin smelling fresh lemon grass

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did you know banana trees only grow one stem of bananas? Then another tree starts beside it for the next batch of fruit.

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pineapple plants take 10 months to grow a mature fruit

 

 

 

On our return from the tour we met the owners of the resort, Alecia & Mark. Alecia grew up in these hills, and learned much from her grandfather about the land and its secrets. She is a Rastafarian and has been all her life. Mark grew up in a military family and his travels as a youth gave him a desire for understanding cultures and experiencing life on a more simple scale. Both of them are “living the dream”, existing almost off the grid with solar power and the harnessing of rain water, not to mention that the farm provides about 70% of their food. This is not just an agritourism resort, it is a lifestyle, and their passion and sense of inner peace is evident when you talk with them.

We returned to the lodge dripping in sweat from the humidity. It didn’t matter. A quick splash of water on my face and a few sips of water and I was ready to get to the kitchen. Zimbali’s two chefs, Raymond and Rudolph,  were already hard at work of course, and their counter was almost overflowing with the bounty from the farm. We were truly spoiled as it was only us and our friends there that day. We saddled up to the bar to watch, learn and eat.

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the bounty awaits! fresh farm veggies on the kitchen counter

The first course was a breaded fritter that was juicy and delicate, green in colour. It was served with an escovitch, a Jamaican pickle made with onions & peppers in a chili vinegar brine.  Raymond asked us to guess what kind of vegetable he had used on the fritter and we thought we had it – zucchini! Nope, he said, guess again. It was the person in the group who is least a foodie who nailed it – green tomatoes. Not as firm as our green tomatoes and not as tangy, rather velvety soft and slightly sweet in contrast to the pickle. The sorrel reduction that garnished the plate was the crowning glory, refreshing and tart.

fried green tomatoes, Jamaican style

fried green tomatoes, Zimbali style

The next course was a sort of cake, like a crab cake but made with vegetables again, said Rudolph. Again we were stumped – cassava? No. Yam? (They had real yams as well as sweet potato on the counter, two very different things, and both used often in a Jamaican kitchen. Sweet potatoes are orange, yams are white – more fibery, not as sweet.) No. They gave us a few hints and we finally figured out it was cauliflower. It tasted much richer than I imagined cauliflower ever could, and was served with a banana purée and a sort of tropical succotash of corn, peppers and tropical fruit. It was delectable.

cauliflower cake with tropical succotash

cauliflower cake with tropical succotash

We were able to choose our main course, and I picked jerk shrimp, while Martin chose escovitch fish. Our friends had curried shrimp. They were all intensely flavoured and beautifully tender, and were served with a quick coleslaw, veggies in a seasoned coconut milk and a green plantain and banana rosti (shredded and pan-fried in a patty). Everything was prepared as we watched, even the coconut milk – we saw the coconut opened, the meat cut out and then shredded in the food processor, and the milk squeezed through a strainer.

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my Jerk shrimp, with banana & plantain rosti, coleslaw and veggies in coconut curry

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Rudolph & Raymond plate the main course

But wait, there was dessert too! I groaned under the weight of lunch, but my enthusiasm kicked in. How could I miss out on a slice of Raymond’s banana rum cake with caramelized melons & papaya? The cake had no eggs but was not heavy, rather silky with a hint of Jamaican spices (allspice, ginger, nutmeg). Raymond explained that he had long ago mastered baking without eggs, as he doesn’t eat them himself. His skill was evident in the finesse of the final product. It was the perfect end to a real gourmand afternoon.

Raymond's rum cake

Raymond’s rum cake

We hugged the chefs to show our appreciation and thanked our hosts profusely for their hospitality, all wishing we could return to stay and soak up the relaxing vibe. (I think on my next visit I might like to stay and experience a massage, yoga class, and a Rasta Tour!)

We hardly noticed the bumps in the road on the way back, being lulled into a sense of total relaxation after our retreat visit. Rain drummed on the car windows as the scenery went by in a blur. By the time we returned to our resort I had my second wind and was happy to tell anyone who would listen (and a few who didn’t seem to care) about what fun we had. I felt I had sampled a true taste of the tropics along with a healthy dose of Jamaican hospitality and respect, and having enjoyed it I was proudly displaying my enthusiasm like it was a diploma of achievement.

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I Know Santa Claus

Santa Claus Happy Gourmand

Okay, have I got your attention? That’s the idea. Santa Claus is an important part of Christmas and he doesn’t just belong to the children, either. He is an integral part of the spirit of Christmas I think, and his importance has very little to do with his big list of toys.

In an age where everything is about knowing the intimate details and having the “behind the scenes” scoop, people seem to think that reality is never what it appears to be. Famous people must not really be happy; there must be some scandal behind their smiles. Spectacular events are not really as special as you initially thought; special effects done on computer and stunt doubles are the reasons behind it.

This kind of skepticism is infectious and it makes us think twice before believing anything. But does that mean there is nothing worth believing in?  Quite the contrary – we need to believe now more than ever.

In 1897, Francis Church wrote that now famous letter to a young girl named Virginia. Today there is talk of the newspapers folding their operations because no one is reading them. Somehow we still need to get the message out to the world that just because you cannot understand the magic of how something good works does not mean you need to discount its value. If we are ever to achieve greater heights in our existence, there needs to be something out there we have not yet imagined to which we can aim our sights. Otherwise, quite frankly, what is the point?

In 1947, a movie was released called “Miracle on 34th Street”. It was the story of Kris Kringle, a department store Santa who showed skeptics how important it was to believe in Christmas… he also talked about the importance of imagination, and faith. All of those, he said, were wrapped up in the spirit of Christmas.

Christmas frame of mind Miracle on 34th

In 2004, Robert Zemeckis directed a movie entitled “The Polar Express”. In it, a child gets a ride on the mysterious train that goes to the North Pole on Christmas Eve, and he learns the secret of Christmas. Believing in the power of Christmas – with its spirit of giving, and forgiveness – is the key to it all.

Christmas spirit Polar Express

I am calling on all souls that wish upon stars and throw pennies into fountains – you are needed now to share your faith with those less fortunate, and to ensure that children keep that twinkle in their eye that makes them want to believe. For you see, it is the children that save us all. Those of us who can hold onto the glimmer of wonder that comes from believing are trying to keep some of the magic of childhood with us.

 

And by the way, for you skeptics in the crowd, I really do know Santa Claus. I have touched his beard and felt his smile warm my heart; I have even shared coffee with him! He is alive and well, and quite busy this year I am happy to report. You see, there is hope for us yet, if we keep believing. If you would like to get in touch with him, you can always start writing again. He doesn’t mind if he hasn’t heard from you in a while 🙂

In closing, I am reprinting Mr. Church’s original letter for you here as I think it still says the right thing, more than a century later.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

 

From the Editorial Page of  The New York Sun,
written by Francis P. Church, September 21, 1897

Virginia, your little friends are wrong.  They have been affected by the scepticism of a sceptical age.  They do not believe except they see.  They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds.  All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s are little.  In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.  He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.  Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus!  It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias.  There would be no child-like faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.  We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight.  The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus!  You might as well not believe in fairies!  You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove?  Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus.  The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see.  Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn?  Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there.  Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart.  Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond.  Is it all real?  Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus!  Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever.  A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Sandwich Making for Dummies

An example of a really sad sandwich, not something to aspire to...

An example of a really sad sandwich, not something to aspire to…

I just consumed the few edible parts of what was called a sandwich by a shop in Revelstoke that shall remain nameless as I hope this was an unusual occurrence. It has prompted me to write this post, thus preventing further such lunchtime tragedies. This sandwich was not quite as pathetic as a BLT I once had that was missing the bacon (1/3 of its identity!!) Dare I say there is such a thing as sandwich etiquette?

 I’d like to offer up some simple tips for a successful sandwich:

  1. TAKE YOUR SANDWICH SERIOUSLY. If you own or work in a sandwich shop, eat your product and make sure it works. This should be good value food, something you are proud to share with others. If you are making a sandwich just for you, then take a minute to prepare something tasty that you will enjoy, not endure. Even a PB & J deserves a little respect 🙂
  2. If you are taking orders in an establishment that makes sandwiches, please TAKE THE ORDER CORRECTLY AND FOLLOW UP TO ENSURE IT GETS MADE CORRECTLY. (Do I sound like a Seinfeld episode?)  I ordered a vegetarian sandwich on multigrain. My companion ordered turkey on white. I got vegetarian on white, and he got turkey on multigrain. I would have preferred waiting when the person handing over the bag discovered the error rather than eat something I didn’t order.
  3. When including vegetables such as cucumbers and tomatoes in a sandwich, SEASON WITH SALT AND PEPPER. Even when you’re using the freshest ingredients from your own garden, a touch of seasoning won’t hurt, and with the commercial groceries most establishments use, salt and pepper can be life savers in elevating the taste of the finished product.
  4. Remember, NOT ALL MEATS & CHEESES ARE CREATED EQUALLY. Choose one that fits the tenor of the rest of your sandwich. Tomatoes and lettuce from the garden deserve something more than a Kraft Single or a slice of processed turkey.
  5. For condiments and spreads, DISTRIBUTE EVENLY on the bread or wrap. If you’re going to count this item as a component that contributes to the flavour of your sandwich, then you want to taste it with every bite. Don’t be chinzy! (If it’s too expensive to spread all over, then don’t use it; otherwise you’re just teasing people.) 
    misproportioned sandwich

    A sandwich out of proportion – too much bread versus filling. It’s also hard to fit in your mouth!

  6. BUILD YOUR SANDWICH PROPERLY so it holds together as you eat it. No one wants salami slapping on their chin, or tomaatoes and cheese sliding out the back end on the first bite.
    1. The bread or bun needs to hold together, not be so soft that a spread or other moist filling makes it go squishy. If it’s toasted, then don’t wimp out – make it crispy! Otherwise it’s just warm bread. Don’t use anything too crusty though, or you won’t be able to bite through the whole sandwich.
    2. Tomatoes, cucumber and other slippery ingredients need to be not-too-thick, or they will slide around too much. Try to put other ingredients in between two slippery ones if you have them.
    3. Lettuce works best if it’s in bigger pieces, or entirely shredded. Little torn bits don’t give even distribution.
    4. Bigger is not always better. You should  be able to fit the entire width of the sandwich in your mouth, so you can taste the whole thing.
      Dividing lunch components so they don't squash each other or leak is important for your enjoyment.

      Dividing lunch components so they don’t squash each other or leak is important for your enjoyment.

  1. PACK YOUR SANDWICH PROPERLY. If you’re not eating a sandwich immediately then this is an important element to enjoying it later.
    1. Squishy ingredients are best wrapped separately, to be added just before eating.
    2. Bread softens when wrapped, especially with added fillings, so consider that when choosing your bread in the sandwich-making phase.
    3. Don’t drop an apple on top of it. If you must pack harder things in with your sandwich, think about a plastic container, or pack those items under the sandwich in your lunchbox or bag.
    4. Be food safe. If your sandwich has dairy, meat or fish it should stay as close to fridge temperature as possible until you eat it. Use an insulated container and cold packs if need be.

 

Now, that’s not so hard, is it? Trust me, you won’t regret taking a moment to appreciate this simple portable meal. Show your sandwich some respect and you will feel better about yourself all day.

A happy sandwich!

A happy sandwich!

Responsible food choices

local food collage words

There is a great effort to support local businesses especially when it comes to food and often supporting “organic” is seen as a good sign as well. But when we talk of manufactured brands, do we really know where the brands come from? This infographic below shows a bit of “behind the scenes” info on who owns what. I don’t mean to pass judgement on any of these companies, but as the article from TakePart states if we wish to make more of a statement we need to make sure we learn about all the steps in our food’s progress to our table.

Now that the farmers’ markets are opening up and the fruit and vegetable stands will soon follow, it becomes easier to support local growers. How many of us also support local producers when we buy meat or cheese? Do we shop at a local independent store or a large national chain? Do we support brands based in our own country, or province (state)? Often supporting a local effort means paying a bit more… is this decision one that we feel is worth the extra pennies?

I grew up in  a time when food from countries halfway around the world was more expensive and not always available. Nowadays many of those items are always on the shelf and at a price that doesn’t change much (kiwis, pineapple, asparagus and strawberries in winter, citrus fruit in the summer). Big box stores didn’t exist either, and my parents knew the butcher, the greengrocer, the fish monger and the baker. At Costco or Walmart no-one asks to speak to those people, but they do expect the prices will be much lower than at the little local shop – the big guys purchase items by the container-load, so why wouldn’t they be?

I guess it comes down to value… how much would you spend on a pair of designer shoes or an outfit? What brand of smart phone do you prefer? If food is a priority, then likely you spend accordingly to find what you want. What is good wholesome food worth?  The same goes for supporting local; is your community something you value on a personal level – do you want to know and support your neighbours? It truly is up to each of us to decide, hopefully in an informed way. To borrow the phrase, “take part” – get engaged so you can defend your choices and live with a happy conscience!

Inside the Business of Organics: Big Companies That Own Your Organic Brands
Via: TakePart.com

 

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