Category Archives: food

Curing the Winter Blues

Grey days. Cold winds. Snow drifts. Slippery sidewalks. Expensive lettuce at the grocery store. These are all reasons I don’t like winter.

The good thing about winter is that I have time to do more cooking and baking. I read cooking magazines and try new recipes. I bake bread more often. Perhaps because it seems to be a winter theme, all this foodie time can be a slippery slope – one needs to also work out more often if one is going to eat more often. Otherwise one could end up like Winnie the Pooh at Rabbit’s house, stuck with legs being used as towel hooks.

pooh stuck at Rabbits

Do you notice that the “sustaining book” Christopher Robin is reading is about food? That’s what friends are for, helping out when we are wedged in a tight spot.

The one thing I’ve discovered about the plethora of food information available online is that much of it is not to my taste. Some of it I would say is even inedible. I once made an olive oil cake posted by a spice company that has great products, but their recipe turned out horribly. The cake was like an oily hockey puck. That was an expensive effort, I’ll tell you. And, I ended up with nothing to have beside my coffee! Talk about NOT curing the blues.

This past weekend I made Alton Brown’s chocolate chip cookies. I had seen not one but 2 posts about “the best chocolate chip cookie” and figured I was armed with all the necessary ammunition to really knock one out of the park. I blazed a trail, and I’m here to tell you that it took some perseverance but I was able to come through the other side and offer up a possible solution for those winter blues.

First, trusting the article that said “don’t use chocolate chips as they don’t melt well; use chopped semisweet chocolate instead”, I bought some quality chocolate.

I looked for New Zealand butter as well, as the article also informed me that Canadian butter has a lower fat content and so less of a rich flavour. I’m afraid that $15 per pound was out of my budget, so instead I decided to brown the butter in the recipe (this works well for a brownie recipe I love.)

Vanilla extract is the other ingredient that has become more dear in recent months. I use it more sparingly now, so I planned for just a wee bit to heighten the chocolate taste, and then a good sprinkle of cinnamon to carry the cookies all the way to the finish line.

Loaded with good ingredients, I set out to bake. The other article had tested cookie recipes from various famous chefs, and Alton Brown’s recipe was voted unanimously as the winner. So, I downloaded a copy and got out my equipment. I’ve watched Mr. Brown’s Food Network show about cooking techniques and he seems like a knowledgeable and trustworthy fellow…

Well, perhaps his scribe is hard of hearing or can’t read Alton’s writing. I used my instinct and cut down his  1 teaspoon of kosher salt to 1/2 tsp. Turns out that probably 1/4 tsp would be plenty with a coarse salt. The butter is to be melted, so browning it didn’t change much in the recipe. However, I found that creaming the butter and sugar only happened once the butter had cooled a bit. I put my mixing bowl’s bum in a bigger bowl of cold water to make that happen as I mixed it.

One thing I’ve learned over the years – that was not mentioned in either article – is to make the best cookies of any kind is to shape them and freeze the dough. Then you can bake a few whenever you want them, and have them still warm.

chocolate chunk cookies

(My chef hubbie is quite a discerning cookie eater; he doesn’t like “leftover cookies”; I’ve tried warming them up and they often end up drier and a bit overdone, even. Word to the wise: save yourself the disappointment and cook them fresh. You can probably even do it in your toaster oven, instead of using the full oven and all its energy.)

I posted my adapted recipe for future reference – Almost Alton Brown’s Chocolate Chip Cookies. I like texture in my cookies, so I added nuts and candied fruit, but if you’re a purist I won’t hold it against you.

My mom used to say there wasn’t much a cookie couldn’t cure.

HIlton hotel cookie

On our return from our winter holiday in Jamaica, we had to layover in Toronto due to weather delays. The Doubletree Hotel at the Toronto Airport gives out warm chocolate chip cookies when you check in; I have to tell you that cookie went a long way to ease my disappointment from the day. Their marketing manager must be a Mom.

Here’s hoping you have access to a good cookie if your winter is making you blue.

 

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Just a Tad of Decorum

It’s a funny thing when you realize you know why your parents harped on you about manners and having respect for the world at large. It was part of learning to be a good citizen.

When you’re young, all those sayings and anecdotes seem like overkill, too crazy to be real. Then, well, you get out into the big bad world and realize there might not be such a thing as too crazy to be real.

“Eat your crusts, there are children starving in Africa.” This was the litany when you didn’t finish your meal. I understood I wasn’t supposed to waste food, and I should respect every morsel. But it was an abstract notion.

Now I can say I have seen pictures of starving children, and I’ve seen videos of food not eaten when it didn’t need to be wasted. Once I saw Just Eat It ,just eat it film poster a documentary about a Canadian couple that decided to try and survive on wasted food, I realized that food needs to be better valued, and distributed, in our world. Now we keep a chalkboard on the fridge reminding us of what needs to be eaten.

“Don’t litter”. I remember seeing signs on the highway that said this. It was definitely considered bad manners to be careless enough to just throw something away, not in a garbage can. As I got older, recycling became more of a part of that action.

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Now I work harder to make my motto the other parts of that slogan. After scuba diving in Cozumel and seeing the piles of plastic garbage on the beaches and pieces of plastic in the ocean, I work hard to minimize my plastic use. We take our own metal straws to the movie theatre, and we won’t buy pre-packaged fruit or vegetables in plastic or foam trays. We use grocery bags made of recycled plastic for our shopping; if we forget them, we carry the groceries out in the cart.

So many small gestures in our day can make a difference. I don’t know about you, but I feel that I should make sure to consistently be a good citizen.

  • “Use your napkin to wipe your mouth”. How many paper napkins get taken from dispensers, not used and thrown out? I think before I pull now, and at home we use cloth napkins  that I wash with the regular laundry.
  • “Say please and thank you.” In an effort to pay it forward,  I make a point of using these words when I shop, including an employee’s name if I notice a nametag. I almost always get a smile, even if I don’t get a response.
  • “Respect your elders.” This was about being polite when I was a kid, like giving up your seat on the bus. Now I want to include valuing their opinion, listening to their stories, learning the traditions they remember.

All these are little things.

started MT

They each take a moment out of our day. But don’t we say that life is made up of the little things?

Cookie Withdrawal

new years start A New Year. Endless possibilities. A whole world of opportunity and adventure. And the chance to get back to more healthy eating and avoid the never-ending indulgences of baked goods and cocktails. It all sounds simple in theory.

But I’m sitting here wishing there were just a few mincemeat tarts left, or maybe one more lebkuchen. My cup of tea is lonely. I did work out this morning, so I would be deserving of a wee something, wouldn’t I?

It’s hard to start fresh. The pressure of new goals, new resolutions, hopes for improving Christmas cookiesoneself; it’s all a lot to handle. I wonder if it didn’t come on the heels of all that Christmas spirit, would even bother attempting such lofty efforts? Who can blame us if we need a little help in getting over the hump?

The Epiphany is the closing gesture on our  holiday season, by some accounts the twelfth day of Christmas. I like to celebrate in the French tradition, with a Galette des Rois, but I have also enjoyed the New Orleans version with an English name: King Cake. Either way, it’s a nice treat to share, shaking off the after-Christmas blues and giving us that kickstart for the New Year.

Food is sustenance, in many different ways. Perhaps as a gourmand, I need more sustenance than the average soul. The ambience of a good meal shared around the table is as fulfilling as the meal itself.

One of my  kindred spirits, Winnie the Pooh, expressed this philosophy best.

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”

“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”

“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.”

pooh and piglet breakfast

So whether a piece of cake does the trick, or the company of a friend with whom to share that cake, it’s still time well spent (and calories well consumed, if you ask me.)

 

 

‘‘Twas the Night Before Christmas…

In our house, Christmas was a big deal.

Decorating the tree was a major undertaking, usually requiring a few days to get everything tight. (Yes, we were a “one strand of tinsel at a time” kind of family.) Gifts were all thoughtful, and their wrapping was to be done with care. Everything was meant to be savoured.

Christmas Eve was inevitably busy, with last minute gifts to wrap amidst visiting friends. But once dinner was done, we settled in. Final preparations were near.

Every year of my childhood we read Clement C. Moore’s classic, once the cookies were set out for Santa.

Santa had to get a sample of each of the baked goods we’d made that year. I remember my mom explaining he probably wouldn’t have room to try them all, having to see everyone around the world.

I used to be able to recite all the verses… my favourite was

My mom usually read the story, but one year we were lucky enough to have Gramps there – he knew The Man in Red personally, so that was extra cool.

As soon as the story was finished, my brother and I would kiss our parents good night, and then it was off to bed to await the magic. I don’t remember dreams of sugar plums but I did sleep well.

I still get up in the morning to check and see what Santa sampled.

I hope there is magic in your heart too – you do know that Santa checks in anyway, even if you don’t put out cookies, right?

A Taste of Nostalgia

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Yesterday I had a little afternoon snack, and as I took my first bite I was inadvertently thrown back in time to my childhood. Suddenly I wasn’t eating a delightful nibble of pâté and crackers… I was in my school lunchroom, eating what was then known to me as a meatspread sandwich. It was completely humbling.

As a child I really disliked meatspread. Little did I know then that it was a grocery store version of what I would covet as an adult, under the name of goose liver pâté.  meat spread liverwurstIt was an inexpensive sandwich filling, a change-up from canned tuna or egg salad. My mom did her best to make it appealing: she put it on fresh French bread and added sliced sweet pickles.

The problem was, in those days “French bread” was in the shape of a fat baguette but it was still soft bread. The meat spread was rather firm stuff, and by the time it got distributed across a slice of bread, there could be squished places or even worse, holes, where the pickle juice would seep through and give the  sandwich a soggy spot by lunchtime.

I ate my meatspread sandwiches anyway. They were certainly my least favourite, but I was a growing girl who was perpetually hungry so I wasn’t going to not eat. I saw other kids that had lunches with less appealing ingredients than meat spread, in my opinion. wrapped sandwich old fashioned style I was lucky my mom was a good cook, and a crafty packer of a bag lunch. (Her best trick was to take a piece of Chocolate Wacky Cake and pull the bottom half away, sticking it on top of the icing. Then you didn’t lose any icing when you unwrapped it from the waxed paper!)

I had a rueful smile yesterday as the memory of pickles and meatspread washed over me. It didn’t taste that bad at all, on one of my sourdough crackers. But then, I’m a much wiser foodie now, aren’t I?

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