Category Archives: history

The Staff of Life

 

I love bread. I find it satisfying, intimidating, humble and rewarding, all at the same time. As a young person cooking, bread was a daunting chapter in any cookbook. It was not until recently that I screwed up the courage to take on that food central to survival for so long; the staff of life.

In my teen cooking years, I was thrilled to discover I could veer onto the side road known as “Quick Breads”, and worked up my confidence with Soda Bread, Zucchini Bread, Baking Powder Biscuits and cornmeal muffins.

One of my childhood friends was German, and her mom did a lot of hearty baking. She had an old family recipe for bread rolls that she made once a month. If the universe was smiling on me, I would happen to be stopping at my friend’s house after school, and we would be allowed to have a warm bun with butter. It was my first taste of Nirvana.

buns with butter

I have been working with my sourdough starter for a year and a half now, and I am still humbled every time I make a loaf. Just when I think I am the master, the starter behaves differently or the weather changes or the flour combination seems not work as well… it’s all edible, but I am far from the works of art I see on Instagram and in my cooking magazines. Those elusive bubbles and the intricate scoring patterns are like a foreign language – one in which I have only learned a few greetings and a few cuss words, like any other novice.

Yesterday, though, I think I got back to the heart of the matter. I made a recipe that I turned into a sort of pull-apart loaf and some rolls, and it was divine. It was an enriched yeast dough that I just happened to add some starter into, so it was truly a mish-mash of ingredients and techniques. But never mind, it worked. It tasted good. Even my chef hubbie said so!

I think perhaps that my interpretation of bread being “the staff of life” involves a more complex sort of survival than just sustenance. The shared experience of breaking bread is truly part of the magic for me. The love shared for the meal is also something I crave. (Like they say, we cannot live by bread alone.)

So I’m rejuvenated for another day, another effort, another bake. Leaving more crumbs, in case there is someone else out there, struggling along the same road. I posted my Kindred Spirit Milk Rolls, as a record of my progress and a message for those souls who want a taste of the magic.

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Warming the cockles of my heart

In honour of Hot Toddy Day, and because I plan to binge watch the last few episodes of Outlander tonight, I thought it fitting that I share a good recipe for the drink that is supposed to be the perfect cure for a dreary winter and the mood we often have to accompany it.

hot toddy

I am generally a fan of hot drinks on a cold day, and I do love trivia, especially as it pertains to food and drink. Toddies not only have a connection to Scotland but also to the American Revolutionary War, so they make a perfect fit with the Outlander story. Of course, some Outlander fans would say you don’t need a hot drink to warm up while watching such a sexy romantic tale, but well, better safe than sorry!

It is said that the first use of “toddy” for a drink was in India, where the fermented sap from a toddy palm was used to sweeten a cold drink in British colonial times. This recipe of a spirit with lemon, spices and sweetener made its way back to Britain, and it was the practical Scots who decided it would work well hot as a cure for the common cold.

Believing strongly in the power of preventative medicines, the Scots made the hot toddy a popular beverage. Their presence during the time of the American Revolutionary War (just like Jamie Fraser in the Outlander stories) was what brought the drink to North America. It is said the colonists liked the drink for liquid courage, but I think perhaps it might just have been to stave off the cold, damp weather.

I was a bit surprised a recipe wasn’t included in the Outlander Kitchen Cookbook, one of my favourite themed recipe collections. outlander kitchen cookbook(It contains so many other wonderful gems that I will use that common old Scottish phrase – “dinna fash” – if you’re thinking this makes it unworthy. On the contrary, I recommend it most highly for anyone with even a passing fancy for Scottish tastes and a love of history.

You can use the spirit of your choice to make a toddy, but here I’m offering what I believe would be the Scottish recipe. Lemons wouldn’t have been common in Scotland or America in the times of the colonists, but feel free to add a slice of lemon if you’d like a more worldly twist.

Spices too are adaptable; traditionally the slice of lemon is stuck with a few whole cloves before it is dropped in the glass, and a cinnamon stick garnishes the drink. If you’re feeling adventurous, a few pink peppercorns or a slice of ginger root can kick things up a notch.

I believe that a Highlander such as Jamie Fraser would have chosen a smoky, peaty Scotch like Laphroaig, but if your tastes are more mellow then perhaps a Glenmorangie would be to your liking. Feel free to experiment with different options. Just remember not to do it if you have to get up and drive afterwards.

Claire Fraser would undoubtedly have a stash of spices in her medicine kit, knowing the benefits of such things as cinnamon and cloves. With their time in the Caribbean, I like to think she might still have had a few treasures that could have helped raise the spirits of a toddy drinker, and perhaps eased the jolt from such a forceful libation.

As a last tip, I’ll offer a few tips on the vessel you use:

  • if you use a glass, put a metal spoon in the glass before you add the hot water. This will conduct the heat and prevent it from cracking.
  • if you choose a metal mug, remember it will conduct the heat very well – even handles can get hot, so be careful. It would be a shame to waste a good drink by dropping it on the ground.

 

SCOTTISH HOT TODDY

Instructions: Add 1 1/2 ounces of Laphroaig 10 (or another Islay Scotch) and 1 teaspoon of honey or maple syrup to a heat-safe glass. Season with lemon or orange, studded with a few whole cloves if desired, and a sprinkle of nutmeg or cinnamon. Heat 3 ounces of water to a near-boil and pour into glass; stir until honey is dissolved.

Slàinte!

jamie fraser drinking

I wonder…

…if the person who invented fireworks was inspired by Mother Nature?

As I watered the garden today it occurred to me that it holds  plenty of inspiration. 

Ready…


Set…


Go!


Children draw “simple flowers” … but have you really looked at a sunflower lately? It looks just like a child’s drawing. 

But there are many possibilities, both in individual blossoms and the entire plants as well as the landscape itself. There is no set design…


There is no single way to grow…


For the kid who loved to wear pink striped socks with a purple embroidered tunic, all this is still  great encouragement every morning. 

Mary, Mary, quite contrary

How does your garden grow?

With silver bells and cockle shells 

And pretty maids all in a row. 

It always seemed like a silly nursery rhyme to me; anyone can see that gardens don’t want to grow in a row. 

Here’s to unruly blossoms that wave in the wind and gardens that inspire the child in all of us! 

Chocolate and Nuts, in a New Way

Chocolate and peanut butter. Some people aren’t crazy about the combination, but most North Americans love it. It could be argued that this is the best example of a truly original American taste.

Did you know that Mr. H.B. Reese invented the chocolate covered peanut butter cup? Yes, there really was a Mr. Reese. And guess what? He worked for Hershey’s before he left to create his own candy company in the 1920’s. Apparently the one condition Hershey’s had for him when he left was that he buy all his chocolate from them. How about that!

Even today, almost one hundred years after this unique confection was created, it is still the best selling candy in America. Hershey’s bought the company in the 1960’s but the Reese name still sticks. Even the increase in people allergic to peanuts has not slowed their popularity.

I am a big fan of chocolate and peanut butter together. Peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips are more than a bit better, they are close to nirvana. Chocolate peanut butter ice cream, if well made, should probably be illegal. But I had never made an actual candy with chocolate and nut butter.

To be fair, the recipe I used was for cashew butter with chocolate. It’s good, but next time I’m going to use peanut butter. My brain tasted the finished product and I could hear it saying inside my head, “it’s fine, but it would be just that much better if it was the real thing.”

I’ll let you decide. Perhaps you are allergic to peanuts. Since cashews are a tree nut, they might be a good alternative. You can easily leave out the pomegranate seeds in this recipe, too – add dried cranberries instead if you like, or nothing. Power Bark is good even if you make it with just the chocolate and the nut butter. Just sayin’.

 

New Month, New Start

Today is May Day, a celebration in many parts of the world – some countries have made it a workers day, and others have it as a celebration of spring, an evolution of pagan festivals such as Beltane. I am always struck by nature’s timeline on this day, perhaps because I live in Canada where the winter weather likes to linger.

It seems this year I am leaning more to the other side of May Day’s meaning – I need help to get out of my winter funk. I was in the garden this morning with my fingers in the dirt and that was a good tonic but wearing two woolly layers and still having my gumboots dampened my mood, if you’ll pardon the pun. My Lilies of the Valley have come up, but are far from blooming yet this year, so there will be no real “Fête du Muguet” for me.

The naval term “mayday” was created in 1923 by a British radio operator who came up with an easily recognizable phrase (he was inspired by the French “m’aider”, meaning “help me”). It is repeated 3 times when calling for help, to make sure everyone hears it correctly. It seems to me that wouldn’t be too hard in disastrous situations; one has a tendency to shout and repeat things. When the clouds get low and the wind blows day after day I feel like I should run out in the yard and send out this call.

I suppose a better way to deal with our long winter is to engage in the celebration of moving forward, though. I flipped the calendar pages and I will be planting the last of my greenhouse seedlings today. I will bake a pound cake to signify the sweeter time of summer with sunshine and warmth. (Historically, this was when grazing animals were put out to pasture to feed on the wild grasses and flowers, making butter and milk richer and more flavourful.)

I’ve always wanted to dance under a Maypole, but that will take some more work. There is something romantic and wistful about maidens in flowing dresses dancing with ribbons barefoot in the grass. Maybe I’ll put together a fairy garden. No one will notice if I tiptoe out tonight to dance with the little ones and have my own Beltane ritual.

The Fairy Dance (1875) – Richard Doyle

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