Category Archives: lunch
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. It 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. 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?
I know, I’m sorry – I didn’t post anything all weekend, not even on Monday. In my defense, I was busy being a gourmand – in the garden planting and pruning during the day and at a table enjoying food and drink with friends at night. There simply was no time left to catalog it all. But I took pictures, so here I am catching up.
We love brunch. Everything about this blended meal appeals to us, and so we work it into our schedule whenever we can. Since we work on many Sundays, it’s a particularly joyous treat when we do get the time to lounge over all the flavours. Brunch is a foodie’s meal.
Brunch was invented by an Englishman in the late 19th century. Believe it or not, Guy Beringer first publicized the idea in an essay defending the case for weary social butterflies suffering from a successful Saturday party. A traditional English breakfast which started with heavy meat pies and other rich proteins was too drastic, so brunch allowed people to ease into a meal, and the day. The idea was to start with “tea pastries”, and perhaps even have a bit of hair of the dog with a cocktail. If brunch was a real thing, he proposed, people wouldn’t be judged harshly for proceeding this way. Interestingly, the concept didn’t catch on in North America for more than thirty years.
Even when we do have a big work day ahead, we have been known to salvage a component of a brunch meal to raise our spirits. Even without a Caesar or a glass of bubbly, a bit of brunch works wonders to make me feel spoiled even on a work day.
Last weekend was hectic with yard projects and deck building so there was no time to waste. Saturday we went all out, and Sunday we dragged our tired selves out of bed to get back at it. My hubbie decided we deserved a treat and so he whipped up some biscuits with the first of the fresh herbs in the back garden. Thanks to Ina Garten’s fantastic biscuit recipe and some of our chili grape jelly, I got to feel spoiled if only for a mere half hour.
I might not have had a hangover on Sunday morning but my sore muscles were grateful for the chance to ease into the day. Mr. Beringer was so right:
“Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting. It is talk-compelling,” Beringer wrote. “It makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings.”
Have you ever been to a neighbourhood Asian restaurant for lunch? I bet you’ve at least seen one in a movie… they are not necessarily small, but simple in decor. The menus are voluminous, going on for page after page of delicacy. Much of the English is often translated a bit funny, which makes you wonder what food ingredient they really mean in the description of dishes. If you’re lucky, there are pictures. If not, you have to look at what others are having and point. The best thing to do is just order by number, because you are often not sure of the name.When I lived in Calgary I first went to a Vietnamese place on the edge of downtown on the recommendation of a friend. (This was long before Trip Advisor.) I learned what a vermicelli bowl was (delicious!) and the difference between spring rolls and salad rolls (30 years ago, who knew that?!) I discovered Vietnamese coffee here and thought I had found nirvana. But all of that happened over time, as I got used to the place and what the dishes were all about.
Despite trying a number of tasty items, my favourite quickly became a number 66. It was a bowl of vermicelli noodles with julienned carrots, cucumbers and green onions, along with some bean sprouts, grilled chicken slices or beef on a skewer, and pork belly, and a spring roll chopped into pieces. It was served with a little bowl of vinaigrette, a couple of lime wedges and a few sprigs of Thai basil.
I learned that the best way to attack this dish was to combine everything:
- tear up the basil leaves and toss them in the bowl
- pour the vinaigrette over the noodles
- squeeze the lime over the meat
- add a well-distributed amount of sriracha over the whole mess
- mix well with your chopsticks
The result was mouthfuls of refreshing, bold flavours with the exciting textures of veggies, meat and noodles and all of the possible tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and even umami). It was a masterpiece in a bowl.
For ten years this was a cherished meal. I couldn’t even tell you the name of the place; we just used to say, “Want to go for a number 66?” We had to change our slang when they renovated – it became a 55, but that and some new paint on the walls was all that changed. Then I moved away.
Thankfully, Kelowna has a few Vietnamese neighbourhood restaurants. I really like Pho Soc Trang. It’s amazingly similar, even being on the second floor like my old haunt in Calgary. The recipe is not exactly the same, but pretty close – it’s a number 61 here. They don’t serve the fresh Thai basil and lime, but the complex textures and flavours are still the best way to chase away the blues, or a cold, or even just clear the cobwebs in my head after a busy week.
My next step is to de-mystify “pho”, the now trendy Vietnamese noodle soup. I’ve had it a few times and would like to master how to enjoy it.
Isn’t it funny how something so unfamiliar can become a cozy friend? All it takes is a bit of trust and a sense of adventure. Go figure.
Yesterday I spoke of comfort food, and how the company that shares the food sometimes has a lot to do with the comfort we get. I am often singing the praises of sharing a meal to bring people together. But what about the times when we eat alone?
I don’t want to say that eating alone can’t be enjoyable; sometimes people want to have quiet time to themselves. What I am referring to are the times when we yearn for company but don’t have any. Then food can taste bland and one can feel much less than nourished after the meal.
Having been a person that didn’t fit in to a group most of my life, I can relate to the loneliness of not being popular as a kid and I remember feeling afraid that I wouldn’t make any friends at school. I was lucky, and found some great companions. I never ate lunch alone.
Sometimes it is the food that heals, and other times it is the company who helps us move forward. In a world of reality TV that promotes singling people out, where the pressure to fit in is even stronger than in generations past, we need to have friends with whom we can feel nourished. Who says that can’t start by “paying it forward” and making a new friend?
Perhaps my teenage memories are why I was so struck by a piece I saw on CBS Sunday Morning today. This show of mostly heartwarming news is always inspiring, and I especially love the stories from Steve Hartman. Mr. Hartman took over for the delightful Bill Geist in delivering tales of everyday heroes that offer hope and inspiration, and today’s entry was no different. #WeDineTogether is a wonderful group of young people… see for yourself:
I’d like to think this idea can spread, just like peanut butter and jelly in a sandwich. As Steve Hartman says, maybe the grown ups can learn just as the kids do. Perhaps we could extend the camaraderie from around the table to a philosophy of life. It’s just an idea.