Category Archives: food

A cure for the winter blahs

I am a Prairie girl at heart, I guess. I love clear blue skies and bright days. I love having four distinct seasons, each with its own weather, its own colours. I don’t like being cold, but I don’t mind bundling up if there is sunshine to warm my soul. In the grey, wet days we have so often here in January, bundling up alone does not take away the blahs.

Even when the clouds aren’t thick, the sky isn’t really blue.

I am not particularly fond of grey. Perhaps it is connected to my love of food. There are no grey foods. (The closest I came was trying to mix frozen blueberries into biscuit dough; the result was a weird sort of mauve-grey that was not appealing, but at least still tasty.) I prefer plenty of flavour and colour, in all aspects of my life.

When I say I find solace in food, I don’t mean like eating a tub of ice cream in one night. I prefer to savour things…

  • A cup of tea on a damp day is just the thing to warm one’s bones
  • A cookie can make one forget sadness, even if just for a moment
  • A bowl of soup really does help one’s soul, and it doesn’t have to be made with chicken

All of these things are a way for me to guard against those winter blahs, or to celebrate another day of having survived them.

I am grateful for a fully stocked pantry, and a companion at the table. I am grateful for my cabinet full of cookbooks, like old friends who can regale me with stories of the good old days. I am most grateful for my health; that I can still reach to gather ingredients, get down the stairs to the pantry and back up, bend over for a peek in the oven… even with all the groans from me and creaks from the joints, I realize these are blessings indeed.

In the age of Covid, having my sense of smell and taste are gifts I celebrate more than ever. Is that why I am even more conscious of savouring flavours and aromas? Or perhaps it is the lack of ability to travel that makes me search the spice cupboard for exotic options.

We cannot visit foreign lands or even visit a friend or relative for tea, but we can still eat. The direct connection of our olfactory system to our memory means that we are hardwired to remember experiences when we smell things we have smelled before.

So, my cure for the blahs is to feed my hunger. My hunger not just for food, but for flavour and excitement. It is harder to sustain in the bleakness of winter, especially in these times of lockdowns and restrictions, but I will keep cooking and keep eating, and keep toasting to everyone’s good health. Cheers!

“It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one.”

― M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating

REPOST: Living in an Unscented World, by Armchair Sommelier

This post moved me to my foodie and wine geek core. It’s the perceptions of a fellow Sommelier who has Covid-19 and – horror of horrors – has lost her sense of taste and smell. This is the part of getting the virus that scares me the most, those lingering symptoms.

She described the experience so well I wanted to share it, in hopes that more people will see it and maybe it will help them stay safe. It’s also never a bad thing to practice our empathy. Cheers to you, Kirsten – I sure wish you have a speedy and full recovery!

I’m a smeller. I smell everything. All the time.

I evaluate/buy everything based on how it smells. Shampoo, laundry detergent, deodorant, lotion, eye cream (who cares if it works if it doesn’t smell good). I won’t use the hand sanitizer at Wegmans because they source it from a distillery, and it smells exactly like grappa. And I hate grappa. I know which public restrooms have the best-smelling soap, too. Dulles International Airport. Smells like almonds and rain.

I adore perfume — I have an extensive collection. My idea of a perfect afternoon is going to Sephora and smelling all the perfumes. Hell, I’m the one who actually likes the perfume samples in magazines.

Smell is one of the things that first attracted me to wine. It’s arguably the most important attribute of wine. Smelling a wine sends a signal to your brain about what you’re going to taste. But, fun fact, your brain can only recognize scents you’ve got stored in memory. One person can stick their nose into a glass of wine and smell black currants and pencil lead. Another person can smell bacon and tobacco leaves. Some people can smell tennis balls and new books. It’s a glorious little subjective symphony.

But now, that symphony is silent for me.

Please go to Kirsten’s blog to read the full post.

The Days of Auld Lang Syne

Christmas is past, tucked into the annals for another year. The calendar has been renewed and here we are, at the tail end of the festive scene. I do hope that like me, you soaked up all the good tidings and delectable morsels on hand over the last couple of weeks.

Epiphany will be upon us soon – I mean that symbolically, but perhaps for some it will be personal. Experiences in this past year have led many people down new paths, towards new lifestyles and new attitudes. Hindsight on last year will be 20/20 in more ways than one.

We were fortunate to have a Christmas not much different than the ones of recent years, just the two of us all snuggled up at Rabbit Hollow. I did miss my furry pal horribly; with Ella gone and not seeing our new granddaughter, some of the delightful abandon that is such an intrinsic part of Christmas was missing. But we soldiered on.

Tourtière with our green tomato pickle and some great Okanagan wine.

There was still plenty to eat and drink, of course. Even with all the goodies we shared, we had snacks left: mince pies, Christmas cake and pudding, shortbread, snowball cookies, chocolate truffles, amaretti… We ate hearty meals too: tourtière, eggs with beurre blanc on brioche buns, duck breast with balsamic reduction, ham with mustard glaze… If I do say so myself, there were also some spectacular local wine pairings from our cellar, and a few delightful late night tipples to toast those not in attendance.

Tarte au sucre (sugar pie) with whipped cream & a wee shortbread garnish, paired with a tot of whisky. Slainte!

A sense of humour is essential, especially when times get tough.

The highlight of the holiday season was still the company. I am blessed to have my soulmate with me, and we haven’t gotten tired of one another even after 10 months of mostly being isolated. The rest of my “peeps” were all across the globe, but we connected with everyone one way or another.

Christmas Day chat with the family!

Who knew that I would be “Zoom-ing” for Christmas cocktails, sharing WhatsApp and Facebook video calls with family, and toasting at New Year’s with friends on screen. There was laughter as we reminisced, and a few tears, but at least they were shared. We all missed the hugs, but we all rejoiced at being safe and left feeling hopeful we can rekindle the fun with plenty of enthusiasm next Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

We were even more conscious of our food choices this holiday season, too. We strived to recreate old memories for comfort, and ventured into exotic recipes as a form of virtual travel. I think that will be my theme this year, to keep the balance of those things like the yin and yang of past and future, holding me steady in the present.

I’ll be trying these recipes soon!

My passion to encourage people to share family dishes has been lit even stronger as well. If we cannot gather to share the knowledge of our family culture, then we need even more to be sure we record its workings to help keep it alive for the future. I was chuffed to participate in the Food52 Holiday Recipe Swap for 2020, which did just that. I sent along some favourites from our family to someone in New York, and I received a delightful note with recipes from a family in Boston. I had the same warm feeling reading the recipes as I do when I light a candle in church.

I start this new year weary, but hopeful. It has been hard to be apart from everyone so much. Our ways to connect have been so limited. Sharing is worth more effort, though, and worth getting creative. The rewards are as good as the taste of an elaborate dessert, or the compliments of guests at your table.

That old song I mentioned earlier asks if old times should be forgotten. I won’t be forgetting this last year, for it has given me cause to remember how important it is to be grateful, and how it’s even more important to show our love to our loved ones, any way we can.

If you haven’t discovered Charlie Mackesy‘s book, “The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse”, look it up. It’s a beautiful piece, and it could not have been written at a better time.

Christmas Dinner for the ages

Christmas is my favourite time of year, and Christmas dinner seems to epitomize the whole festive season: the food and drink and best of all, the company. It is the one time that people try to see past any differences and gather to share a meal – a simple thing, but a powerful experience.

In a normal year, there might be challenges to bridging the gaps and getting everyone to enjoy a meal together. Both my chef hubbie and I have always believed that we should be grateful we have those people you care about enough to argue with, and toast their good health before you dive into that sumptuous dinner. I suppose a good part of living in a pandemic is being reminded of the things for which we should be grateful.

Ebenezer Scrooge was shown his future in one night. We have spent 9 months living in a version of that same dream. It’s time to get up and embrace a new future.

In my Christmases past, I have had traditions that evolved over time. As a kid, I remember mashed potatoes with gravy, NO Brussel sprouts (my Dad hated them) and a roast turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce. Stuffing was a topic that was hotly discussed by my parents, as my Mom read more cooking magazines and my Dad pined for the “good old days” when celery and sage were all it needed. Years later, he would be the one saying why hadn’t we added walnuts or used cornbread earlier.

Once I was on my own, I wanted to replicate the Victorian Christmas. I cooked a goose one year, and made Christmas cake. I found out I love Brussel sprouts roasted in the oven and dusted with Parmesan cheese. And as friends and family spread out across the globe, I have learned to enjoy a smaller feast. It has been a rare occasion to have guests for Christmas dinner at Rabbit Hollow – turns out that was a blessing in disguise for this year, not expecting much.

We have a new granddaughter this year and so it is disappointing not to see her in person for Christmas. My stepdaughter was looking forward to having her dad help her with the first of her big family Christmas dinners. But we are focusing on creating a memory that embraces this year so that we can look back on it later as part of our Christmases past.

I don’t think it was merely the tryptophan from the turkey that made me groggy and light-headed at Christmas; it was more that sense of euphoria that comes over you when you immerse yourself in the spirit of Christmas. This doesn’t require the presence of people in the room, just in your heart. If you truly believe in the essence of Christmas then as you let it into your heart and take active part in the festivities and the giving, you cannot help but feel better yourself.

Children know this intuitively, and it is only as our hearts harden if we don’t practice such things that we lose sight of the true meaning of this holiday. Christmas is not for children, but for the child that lies within us all, hoping for a chance to believe in something pure and good, and listening for that magic signal which says that something exists.

So, if you need a dose of “A Wonderful Life” or “The Polar Express” before Christmas dinner to get you in full gear, go right ahead. If you can exchange Tupperware containers to share in the food with folks close in proximity, why not! And when you fire up the screens, have your glass ready. When you sit down to dinner, cherish the meal, toast those with you, remember the ones missing, and take a picture for your memory book. This will only be Christmas present right now.

It is of great importance to take Christmas to heart, for if you do it right, it just might stay with you until next year. Wouldn’t that make the world a wonderful place?

As Tiny Tim said so long ago, “God Bless us every one.” Merry Christmas from our table to yours.

Revisiting a flavour

This Christmas has been full of memories, but it’s the old ones carrying me, as we can’t make many new ones in a world of lockdowns and restrictions. I haven’t posted all month – the only message I can come up with is to try and be positive, but that has gotten increasingly harder. I decided to just immerse myself in the nostalgia.

Last year, Christmas was rich with exotic gifts and flavours we had brought back from our trip to Africa. We shared new recipes at our annual Dessert Before Christmas open house. We gave argan oil and filigree earrings from Morocco, vivid textiles and wood carvings from Senegal. We regaled our family and friends with tales of our adventures. And then of course there were the usual sleigh rides with friends, holiday movies, meeting folks for drinks… I think it used to be called “the hustle and bustle of the season”.

Having lost our chance for a Christmas with anyone but us two, we have resorted like everyone else to living glued to the screen. Zoom and Facebook are the only ways to see them. The outside world has been reduced to 15 inches at best, or sometimes just a face like a postage stamp on my phone. And there is no “smell-o-vision”. Perhaps that is why I decided to make visual cookies was important this year.

My Mom’s Shortbread, all decorated with sprinkles and coloured sugar, looked like they were dressed up for a holiday party even if I couldn’t attend. They were always the favourite when my brother and I were kids, and made me think of happier, busier times.

I also managed a new cookie this year, using not only flavours from Morocco but also a pattern that echoes the beautiful tiles we saw across western Africa. I called them Orange Blossom Lavender Biscuits. (Click on the recipe link to see how I achieved it.) I am no good with icing cookies in elaborate detail – and my ability to push through and persevere is wearing down, so I set myself up for success. I brushed them with a floral-scented glaze and sprinkled dried edible flower petals on top. They deserved a “Ta-da!” at the very least!

So now I feel a bit better. I sent some proudly to friends and relatives in gift bags. My cousin, bless his heart, said lovingly on our Zoom call that they tasted like Froot Loops cereal. I had to laugh – not the review I was hoping for, but sharing the love and laughter was worth its weight in gold. That’s what a cookie can do.

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