Category Archives: holidays

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

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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?

Share kindness with a cookie

sharing a cookie

Today is World Kindness Day. I think every day should be World Kindness Day, but we have to start somewhere, right. One step at a time. So, I propose we start by sharing.

One of the easiest things to share is food. I know that in today’s world even that can be complicated, what with all the dietary restrictions and allergies. But the gesture of sharing is still a kind one, even if the recipient has to refuse the token. They don’t have to refuse the smile that goes with it.

My Mom used to say there wasn’t much a cookie couldn’t cure. Technology will argue that point; but if I have a bad day, I still feel better after I take the time to enjoy a cookie. If I can find someone to share the moment and maybe another cookie, so much the better.

Are you like me – certain kinds of cookies fit certain moods?

peanut butter criss cross cookies

 PEANUT BUTTER CRISS CROSS – for days when I feel like a dose of kid magic, that beautiful feeling of freedom and wonder you have when you’re a kid. There is something simple and nourishing about these squished rounds that make my soul sing.

 

cookie monster in bed happiness

TROPICAL DELIGHT – for when I want to “Sail Away” like in that old song, imagining that I’m at the beach or on the water, in holiday mode. These are particularly welcome in the dead of winter.

 

 

Dave Zen cookies

CHOCOLATE COOKIES – you know those days when you just don’t think you can get to the end unless you have a bit of chocolate? These are like a friend made into cookie dough. When your best bud isn’t available, these come to the rescue.

 

 

Maybe you aren’t so much of a sweets person? Not to worry, I have something for that savoury shortbread The Chef Insteadtoo. I always lean towards sweet treats for sharing a morsel, but SAVOURY SHORTBREAD that my hubbie, The Chef Instead makes is a perfect grown-up treat that’s good for one friend or many.

 

 

If, God forbid, you’re not into any kind of biscuit or cookie (it’s okay, we could still be friends) then how about sharing a pot of coffee or a bottle of wine? You can even “pay it forward” in the queue at Starbucks or Timmy’s. You could put something in the Food Bank donation box at your local grocery store.

Even if you’re reading this at the end of the day, you can still be a part of all this wonderful-ness. There is no expiry date on kindness. What do you say?

(I’m heading out to share my birthday cake from yesterday. I’m baking cookies tomorrow. I’ll report back on how they turn out!)

You Gotta Have Heart

Spokane Riverfront Park, July 4

It’s July 4th, and if there is one thing Americans know how to do, it is hold a patriotic party. Being Canadian, I am part of a country known more for its politeness and low key attitude so I have always been in awe of the Americans when it comes to this kind of thing.

I have been in the U.S. on July 4th twice in my life, and both times it was spectacular. The pomp and ceremony was grandiose, there was stars and stripes everywhere, and of course there was plenty of food and drink with American favourites in abundance.

The first time as a young teen at basketball camp in Pullman, WA. I had never seen a fireworks show like that before – wow! And that was just for all of us campers being hosted at the university campus. We had hot dogs for dinner, on tables dressed with bunting and flags. For dessert as a special treat we got apple pie.

The American girls wanted to know if we had a party in Canada (they had no idea about Canada

despite being low key, Canadians do have their own sense of pride – and sense of humour

Day). They also asked about Canadian food, not expecting that much of what we ate was at least similar (you couldn’t get Babe Ruth chocolate bars or Dr Pepper in Canada when I was a kid, but I never felt that I suffered).

This was before the internet and online shopping, so I suppose you can excuse some ignorance of Canadian culture.

My next Independence Day experience was taking a bunch of teenagers, when I was part of a Girl Guide trip to Spokane for the July 4th holiday. We were downtown at Riverfront Park, so there was not only the fireworks show but also the full carnival atmosphere from food trucks to craft vendors and all manner of buskers.

We saw dance troops, marching bands, a capella singers, a one-man band, a magician, and a fire

you want to share this treat – the whole thing is enough to conquer even the heartiest of foodies

juggler. I even had a chance to try a deep-fried Mars bar. The girls were overwhelmed by the scope of the celebration; it opened a door to a new understanding of a different world, as many of them had never left Canada before.

We celebrated 150 years of Canada as a country this year. I did see more Canadian flags on cars and tattoos on people’s faces. We knew more people who had parties, and we catered a party for people who had done all kinds of decorating at their lakefront house, and hired a fireworks barge to do a show on the lake for their guests. It was heartwarming, and fun – I could even say patriotic. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and felt a rush of pride at being a part of our great country.

It is important to give credit where it is due – as I type this, I’m watching fireworks set off from five barges in the New York harbour. The West Point band and glee club are singing a medley of patriotic songs in tune to the explosions. Cheers and good health to all you Americans out there. Here’s to your spirit!

 

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