Category Archives: entertaining

My Moment of Zen

In a world where things move at 4G (or is it 5G now, I can’t remember) and there is a lot of non-stop noise, it’s nice to enjoy a slow and quiet moment. One of my favourite reasons for walking the dog is to have those kind of moments. Another way I take a deep breath is to spend time in my garden. The first method I discovered for stepping back from the fray was reading.

Today I stopped at the local Chapters to stock up on reading material. I do have books at home, but I was looking for inspiration, new information to broaden my horizons. I also have to manage my time and focus on priorities. I don’t know about you, but if I have a good book I have been known to disappear inside it for lengths of time. I can only allow shorter intervals right now, so having something that was of shorter duration was more practical. A few food magazines was just enough to do the trick.

Just buying the magazines put me in a state of euphoria. Choosing publications that offered something unique was important; I don’t need to read about 15 different variations on brownies or omelettes. I wanted something outside the box.

Scooping up the last few issues of Lucky Peach was important; if you haven’t heard of this periodical yet, unfortunately it’s almost too late. The offbeat and ingenious effort from Momofuku’s David Chang and Peter Meehan will be shutting down later this year. (I invite you to at least check out their website for brilliantly written pieces.)

I am a fan of foodie travel, and my current favourite on that front is Saveur. There used to be a similar magazine called Intermezzo which I loved, but I can’t find it anymore. (You have to roll with the punches.) I have learned of cuisines in faraway places, and ingredients I never knew existed. I have added places to my bucket list and filled my kitchen with aromas that had me transported across the world.

As a treat, I picked up a special edition on California wine, as we are travelling there in the fall. Not only will I have some new pairing ideas, I might find a few pit stops. After all, travelling is thirsty work.

Hiding in the back shelves was a title I hadn’t seen before, so I splurged and picked it up too. I love to know how things work and Milk Street is all about the how’s and why’s of a dish. It’s a new publication; I’ll let you know how I like it.

I suppose you could call this literary gluttony a guilty pleasure. There are many websites with foodie information, and articles galore on every topic imaginable. But there is something comforting in putting my feet up and flipping those glossy pages, pondering the delectable food photos as I sip my tea. I consider this akin to meditation, a time for my mind to wander at leisure with no agenda. As much as my workouts are important to stay in shape and my recipe testing helps with my writing, a bit of mental free time helps me find my ways to new ideas. Sometimes, like a walk with Ella where I let her decide the route, my mind will wander down its own path and find a solution to a challenge that doesn’t even involve food.

I read an article today about Paula Wolfert, a renowned cookbook author and icon in the world of food and restaurants. She has Alzheimer’s disease, and so not only does she not remember how to cook many recipes anymore – she also has lost much of her sense of taste. And yet, she is still working with food and with people who want to learn from her. (I can’t wait to read the biography of her that is coming out soon. If you’d like to read the article, it’s on my Facebook page. ) 

Reading Ms. Wolfert’s story reminded me that every moment counts. Even with a life rich in memories, we need to make every effort to live our best life in every moment.  There is a zen saying:

Quiet the mind and the soul will speak.

I’d like my soul’s vocabulary to improve.

 

 

 

My Favourite Cookbook(s)

I saw a post on Facebook today that asked about favourite cookbooks. They didn’t mean websites, or even online recipes, but rather the good old-fashioned cover-to-cover tomes of cook’s notes on paper. I wanted more than just a tiny comment box to record my thoughts on the matter, so here I am. I’m hoping that my choices may interest someone else – or perhaps a reader may have a cherished volume whose name they will share. Do I need to mention I have more than one favourite?

SENTIMENTAL FAVOURITES

If a favourite volume is designated as such by its frequency of use, then my stained journal with all the recipes of my childhood would win hands down. All my old stand-bys are in there and not only do I make them regularly, I also share them with friends and relatives. They aren’t on the internet in a way I can find them unless I put them in this blog, so the weathered pages are my kitchen bible. When I needed my Auntie Maxine’s foolproof Yorkshire Pudding recipe, that’s where I wrote it. I still use it, and when I get long distance phone calls asking for it, I like it to be handy.

The first cookbook I got as an adult was one my parents bought me. It was aptly named The Only Cookbook. Since I started cooking before the internet was around, it was an important resource. I learned details about roasting meat, making soup, preparing meringue and many other multi-step cooking feats from its pages. I still recommend it as a gift for any young cooking enthusiast leaving the nest. (It’s now even more affordable on Amazon.)

OLD FRIENDS

As for published cookbooks, The Frog Commissary Book has been a good friend for many years. This collection comes from two popular eateries (The Frog and The Commissary) in Philadelphia.  It not only has plenty of practical everyday recipes like Frog Commissary Cookies , the margins of its pages are filled with handy tips about cooking and entertaining, like how to set up a bar for 50 people or an illustrated set of instructions on making lemon crown garnishes. 

The other old friend I would not want to be without is The Chatelaine Cookbook, published in 1965. When I want a recipe for a preserve, or something like waffles or tomato aspic, that is where I look. There are few photos, no tales of how a recipe came about – just straightforward instructions. It’s what my grandmother would have told me if I asked about a recipe.

STYLE (aesthetic and cooking)

For a cooking style as a theme, I still have a fondness for Southwest cooking and my copy of Mark Miller’s Indian Market Cookbook is as useful as it is beautiful. Going to the Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe was on my bucket list for years, but now I live my dream through the pages. Our warm summer climate and relatively mild winters are a good fit for the aromatic and often bold flavours, and I enjoy growing chiles and herbs in the garden that I use in these recipes. Rosemary Pecan Bread is from this book.

TRAVEL

One of my best girlfriends is from South Africa, and I was fortunate enough to visit her there many years ago, and sample some of the ethnically complex and flavourful food. The following Christmas she sent me a copy of Cook with Ina Paarman (she is like her American namesake, Ina Garten – a goddess in the cooking world in her country). You haven’t lived fully until you’ve had Milk Tart. (Full disclosure: this recipe is directly from my girlfriend, Merle. Ina Paarman now has a very comprehensive website, including many recipes.)

REFERENCE

My mom gave me a copy of Larousse Gastronomique not long after I returned from my year living in France. I had spent much time while there researching French recipes through history, and it helped with some of my translations. The encyclopedia format means you need to know what you’re planning to cook if you want a recipe; it is equally as interesting only as a reference for classic European cooking.

 

I have a bookcase full of cookbooks, and I don’t use them all as much as I would like. Still, their presence is a comfort and an inspiration. I guess it is a reflection of my age that the feel of a book in my hands and the action of flipping through pages is much more comforting than typing and tapping through an internet search.

Do you have a favourite cookbook, or did you eschew your collection for an online app? How do you find recipes, and save those you want to make again? I’d love to hear your comments.

You win some, you lose some… and some you get rained out

I remember this expression from my childhood, and it has applied in so many situations I long ago lost count. Everyone likes to win at something, but quickly we learn that we won’t win every time. For there to be a winner there also has to be a loser. You wouldn’t have a game otherwise. But it’s the times when you can’t seem to win no matter what that can be the toughest. Matters beyond your control stop the game mid-stream, and you have to change things up to continue. Such is life, or as the French put it,

C’est la vie.

I’ve been in this kind of situation in the kitchen when I did movie catering. I remember the first time I cooked brownies for 100 people on a catering truck while parked on a steep hill. I had to think fast when they came out of the oven – there was a thicker end to the baking pan of batter that was a big brownie (more like cake) and a thinner end that was more like a biscotti. I could not choose “game over” as an option, the cast and crew had to have dessert. So I iced the thick half and dusted the thin half with icing sugar. I cut the pieces smaller and served up a choice: chocolate wacky cake AND biscotti. It worked, even though it wasn’t the original game plan. I did make a note to myself to prop up the pan the next time we cooked on a hill, though. When you get rained out, you learn a lot.

We got rained out tonight for dinner. We were supposed to meet friends at a local restaurant to catch up on all our news, as we hadn’t seen each other in months. We wanted a place on the Westside so it would be close for all of us. She made reservations.

We pulled up first and found the restaurant closed up. We knew it wasn’t open for lunch and we had arrived early… we checked the website and it said they were closed Mondays. So we texted our friend; perhaps she had made a mistake when reserving? She and her partner pulled up a few moments later, and she told us she had specifically asked if they were open since the website said otherwise. The staff said of course and took her booking.

when things don’t look good, we try to think outside the box and see other options.

Growing up with parents who worked in the movie industry meant I learned the motto, “Be Prepared” long before I was a Girl Guide. My hubbie is just as adaptable having spent years in a hot kitchen. We are always prepared for rain. (If we ever ended up on a show like Amazing Race, I think we would do really well.)

It took only a minute or so before we had come to a consensus. Many small restaurants are not open Monday, something we can sympathize with since we know weekends are the busy days. We brainstormed and quickly found someplace close that was open and headed out.

So I’m sorry, Thai Fusion , but I can’t offer any commentary about your experience. It’s a shame, as we don’t get out that often and I like to support small businesses. Unfortunately since part of my expertise lies in customer service I have to say that you did lose out when you had a staff member so out of it they never realized even after taking a reservation that they booked clients for a night you’re not open. You missed an opportunity to win.

As a result, 19 Okanagan Grill and Bar got our business tonight. They welcomed us with open arms and smiles, and took good care of us all evening. The drinks were fun and tasty; my Pineapple Ginger Margarita was the perfect beverage for reminiscing about my Mexican holiday. The food was hot and full of flavours. I had plenty of fish tacos in Mexico, and I already know theirs are good so I chose the Butter Chicken Bowl. I was pleased with the abundance of veggies, chicken and rice; the hot naan bread was a perfect accompaniment. My hubbie said his Cajun Burger was just right too, with a good kick of heat, fresh lettuce and tomato and hot fries. Our friends were both happy too – apparently the Caesar cocktails are at least as good as the Margaritas.

I’m glad I was able to support a neighbourhood business tonight. I am thankful that we got some quality time with friends, and a fun memory to share. Thanks, 19, for keeping us out of the rain. You’re a winner in my eyes. I’m sure we’ll see you again soon.

And the winner is…

Oscars Governors Ball 2016

Time to get down to business. Sunday is Oscar night and I have appies to plan. This post will be a bit of streaming consciousness, as I figure out what will work this year. You see, in a household where movies are such a lynch pin, Oscar night is a great opportunity to honour that.

Setting aside the politics of the broadcast, we join in the festivities and do our best to honour the movies we enjoyed through the past year, whether they are on the nominations list or not. Our food theme works to coincide somehow with the movies. So let’s begin with a recap of who’s up for Best Picture:

  • ArrivalOscars_Logo
  • Fences
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • Hell or High Water
  • Hidden Figures
  • La La Land
  • Lion
  • Manchester by the Sea
  • Moonlight

We can literally go all over the map this year – movies that take place in the northern and southern United States, west coast, east coast and south coast, in Europe and India, involving African American and Caucasian culture. I suppose I could even interpret what aliens might eat. Ooh, the adventure of it all! tasters-world-map

So, sticking with alphabetical order, here is my brainstorm…

ARRIVAL – something ethereal, perhaps, to go along with the theme of other-worldly creatures… like a meringue!

FENCES – this one is easy, if you saw the film. More than a few sandwiches are consumed in this movie. Middle class sustenance at its best.

HACKSAW RIDGE – since this is a war film, I thought a play on rations would be fun – how about a homemade chocolate “bar”?

HELL OR HIGH WATER – I could go with biscuits to play on the good old south setting, but I’d rather have fun with the title – hot wings it is.

HIDDEN FIGURES – let’s take from the church picnic and riff on those flavours – no fried chicken needed, but sweet potato cubes wrapped in bacon are good comfort food.

LA LA LAND – I can’t help it, I have to do some fish tacos. Sorry, Ryan Gosling.

LION – more bold flavours to represent the characters in this film. I have a wonderful curry yogurt dip that will be nice with some veggies.

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA – here’s the chance to add some kind of seafood to the menu.  A lobsgter roll would be good, but we already have fish tacos. Some garlic butter prawns would be lovely, though.

There we have it – a menu. Nine nibbles should keep us satiated. We still need beverages though, and there are some other films I want to recognize from 2016.

THE JUNGLE BOOK – not a new film, but newly done. The animated Disney version was one of my favourites as a kid, so a coconut cocktail is in order.

DOCTOR STRANGE, DEADPOOL, FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM – all of these films offered exotic and fantastic effects and storylines. Here are a few colourful drink ideas:

  • Sangria – mix  8 parts fruity red wine, 1 part peach schnapps, 1 part triple sec, the juice of half a lemon, half a lime, and half an orange. For real authentic sangria, add slices of citrus and chunks of apple or other tropical fruit in the mix to soak for a few hours or even overnight. Serve over ice for your basic colourful drink.
  • Blue Monday – mix 2 oz vodka, ¼ oz triple sec, ¼ oz blue curacao in a shaker with ice and strain into a fancy glass. Serve with a lemon twist. (Feel strange only if you want.)
  • the Matador – like a margarita with a twist, this concoction of tequila with 1/2 lime and 1/2 pineapple juice is both refreshing and exotic. (Chase wild animals only if you drink water in between refills.)
  • Mike’s Full Moon – pour in a glass with ice: 1 part Mike’s Hard Lemonade, 1 part Blue Moon beer. Garnish with lemon. (Howl at will.)
  • Death in the Afternoon – (Hemingway’s favourite drink is for Ryan Reynolds, but it is not named lightly so beware drinking anything after this) Pour a jigger of absinthe in a champagne glass and top up with champagne so that it reaches an opalescent colour.

We have the makings of a good party here. I have some work to do to get ready, but I’m looking forward to a fun evening. I may even dust off something fancy to make it official.

You might think I’ve gone off my rocker, doing so much for such a superficial event. Consider it more of a serious effort to have a lot of fun. Everyone will be a winner around our table, no matter what Jimmy Kimmel does.

our outfits one year at an Oscar party with friends, James Bond style

our outfits one year at an Oscar party with friends, James Bond style

 

 

Armchair Travelling in the Kitchen

 

I know I won’t have much sympathy when I finish this post by telling you I’m leaving on holidays in 2 days, but bear with me… I was thinking of friends we have made in past years on trips to Jamaica, and missing the trip we usually take there at this time of year. I decided to make something tonight in hommage to our love of the place,  its wonderful food and people, and our distant friends.

I don’t know if you have ever done this – revisit tastes from a great experience? You can’t expect to recreate magic that comes from being in a place, but it’s fun to remember and toast to a time when you lived life to the fullest. I love to share tastes with friends and family, too; it helps to round out tales you want to tell of your visit and put them in context even for those who weren’t there.

Tonight’s little appetizer was easy. FRIED PLANTAINS: take a few plantains and peel them like bananas. Slice them diagonally and toss in a mixture of thyme, allspice, salt and marjoram (oregano will sub in if you don’t have any). Pan fry in a cast iron pan with a generous amount of coconut oil till golden brown. Serve with Jamaican condiments such as tamarind chutney, jerk sauce or other spicy chutneys. This time it was just for the two of us, but I’ve done it for larger crowds and we’ve had just as much fun. Light beer or rum punch are perfect accompaniments, but a lighter white wine will work in a pinch.

 

If you have a chance to be a guest at such an occasion, perhaps it will inspire you to take a voyage. Or it will give you a real taste of the place, a chance to be an armchair traveller. There is no safer way to travel, yet the excitement can still be worthy of wanting to send a postcard or two.

kpl-7-mile-beach

Taken on Seven Mile Beach in Negril, Jamaica

 

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