Category Archives: reference

A Weekend in the Big City

Living as a country mouse means I get to enjoy space and quiet and peace of mind most days. That’s not to say I don’t like a dose of urban hustle and bustle once in a while. Hubbie and I just got back from a whirlwind weekend in Vancouver, so I thought I would share some of our highlights. Then you can try out our discoveries, if you like what you see.

We met my stepdaughter for dinner on Friday night in downtown Vancouver. She is recently engaged so we knew the conversation would be all about wedding plans. That required a place casual enough for lots of silly chatting and sharing of Pinterest photos; a tapas restaurant in Gastown sounded perfect. The Sardine Can worked out really well, with delicious food and lovely wine.

As an added tip, I’ll mention that Gastown is a busy part of town for after-work drinks and socializing. Be prepared to wait – you will likely have to get a drink at one place while you wait for a seat at another place. Maple Tree Square is the centre of the action, with restaurants and pubs all around. We wandered into Chill Winston to have our first toast of the evening, since The Sardine Can only has a few seats and they were all full.

Even the lighting at Chill Winston is cool

We visited, but you could go alone and enjoy – it’s a great people-watching spot, and the staff are friendly. Our bartender Charlie even made a custom drink for my stepdaughter.

The tapas were great and the Spanish wines helped transport us; we felt as if we’d snuck into a cozy spot on a side street in San Sebastián.

Good olives are even better when they are warm

Have you ever heard of zucchini carpaccio? It’s delicious!

You have to include chorizo – I think it’s a rule.

Prawns and lamb meatballs made for our grand finale. They were only missing one thing…

…Fresh bread, for dunking in the sauce (served warm, like the olives.) I loved the practical presentation.

By the time we were done we had discussed wardrobe, menu, flowers, and the ceremony venue.

When your Papa is a chef who knows pastry and chocolate, dessert has its own significance. A trip to Sweet Obsession was in order.

If you have a hard time making decisions, this place might be overwhelming. Just take heart in knowing you can’t make a bad choice.

This gem in Kitslano was made famous by a protegé of my hubbie, so it’s near and dear to our hearts. Tracey now owns Lemonade Bakery, where she specializes in gluten free products. There is no cafe to stay and eat, but it is worth a trip even if you aren’t gluten free.

the smell and colours of tropical flowers always makes me smile.

fresh coffee is another of my favourite smells. I am a JJ Bean fan, but any of the vendors you see on Granville Island will fix you up with a fresh brew.

prepared or semi-prepared food adds to the cheeses, charcuterie and fresh produce. Plan ahead or save the day with a few choices.

Stewart’s Bakery has been a fixture at the market for as long as I can remember. I still dream about their eccles cakes…

On Saturday we had to make our cardinal stop. Ever since I was a kid, my favourite foodie spot in Vancouver has been Granville Island Public Market. It still warms my heart and my tummy on every visit, especially now that it’s the source of so many memories.Brave the busy parking and shuffle your way through the crowds – it’s worth all the fuss to enjoy a coffee, or a piece of pie, or fresh fruit, or fudge, or fish and chips (they have it all) and sit outside to watch the boats and birds in False Creek.

We stocked up on all our favourites, planning for a picnic dinner that night in our hotel room. (Having a full suite with a kitchen made it easier and much more comfortable than eating on a hotel bed.) More on that later.

Saturday lunch was for more family time, so again casual was the theme. Hubbie wanted to do some research, so we chose a BBQ joint – oddly enough, it was back at the same square in Gastown that we had visited the night before.

We met my brother and his girlfriend to trade gifts and then wandered down to Peckinpah BBQ, a southern style joint where most of the menu is set up very simply: pick your meat, then choose a few “sides” to go with it. There was beef, pork and chicken (we had a bit of each). Sides included corn bread, hush puppies (basically fried cornbread), coleslaw, fried pickles, and of course mac and cheese.

I can’t speak for the mac and cheese as we skipped that one but the other items were all solid efforts. I prefer vinaigrette for my coleslaw dressing; theirs was creamy and peppery. Fried pickles are good if you eat them fresh from the fryer; wait more than a few minutes and they get soggy. The jalapeño mayo they make for dipping the pickles was just the right touch of heat. We discovered it worked well with hush puppies and chicken wings too.

There is something especially comforting about food shared with family after a long absence. My brother and I hadn’t shared a meal in years and dipping hush puppies together as we laughed at old stories made the tastes even better. I know it won’t be nearly as long till we sit around a table again.

The picnic my hubbie and I set out that evening was just a nibble before heading out dancing, as we weren’t very hungry after all that BBQ. What an elegant way to picnic, though, in our vintage suite at the Arundel Mansion Hotel in New Westminster.

preserved lemon-stuffed olives, duck rillettes, fennel salami and a full cheese selection with baguette and PEI artisan butter went well with our gamay from The Hatch Winery

Sunday brunch was my own sentimental indulgence. Years ago my dad introduced me to a place out by the airport that was unique in its ambience. The Flying Beaver Bar & Grill sits on the water in Richmond, next door to the Harbour Air terminal for seaplanes. You can sit and watch them land and take off as you sip your beer and nibble on a homemade burger or Eggs Benny. I hadn’t been back in years, but it was just as good as I remember. (It’s just busier, like everything in Vancouver fifteen years later.)

Beaver hash, which is Eggs Benny atop chorizo, veggies, cheese and pan fried potatoes

A bison burger, fully loaded

How cool is that?!

Sometimes we head to the city and try out new places, looking for new adventure. This time was more about connections. It was heartwarming to reconnect and add to the memories. Not to mention we filled the fridge with delicacies.

Random Thoughts, and Trends

I was scanning the news this morning and thinking foodie thoughts in a rather stream-of-consciousness fashion. Nothing seemed to stick, it was all random. My brain went with that theme and suddenly I was humming the Arlo Guthrie tune about a pickle…

 

That was my inspiration today. My commentary on some of the new cooking and eating trends is entirely random, and without any expertise other than my own tastebuds. It’s fun to be adventurous and think outside the box, but when I threw so many random trends together it made me wonder if we aren’t trying too hard to be unusual. But then, comfort food and retro recipes are other popular trends. Anything is possible.

  1. Brinner – when you miss breakfast, you can have it for dinner! Some of this trend is centered around the concept of putting a poached egg on top of a dish, but there’s something to be said for making more meals acceptable for all those wonderful Sunday brunch dishes 🙂
  2. Gyros – it’s cooler when your wrap has an ethnic name, isn’t it? The Greek flatbread with flavourful fillings is the new wrapped sandwich craze. Portable food is always cool in today’s world. If only there was an app that would allow telepathic texting while you eat…
  3. Donuts – what else can you put in them? It’s frankly scary the range of fillings available in fried pastry, and then consider the variations of stuffed food similar to a donut – like kolaches (great with plum jam but now possible with candied jalapenos and smoked beef, just because).
  4. “I dare you” food – ever tried beef tongue? How about fresh grated horseradish? Foraged greens? Moss? It’s all out there for the adventurous. Chefs love shock value too sometimes.
  5. New twists on beverages – craft beer pubs are passé; look for beer bars with odd themes (think different glassware or decor and innovative beer styles). Wine is okay, but mead is more fun. And cocktails can come with any kind of garnish now, even scented feathers!
  6. Salt cod – no really, you have to try it! Andrew Knowlton, the editor of Bon Appetit magazine, said it looks like “a last-resort snack for those beyond the wall in Game of Thrones”, but treated properly it is delectable.
  7. Nitro coffee – because life just keeps getting more Fast & Furious. Seriously, why have just caffeine when you can have it injected with nitrogen and served from a tap? It has a creamy texture not unlike a pint of Guinness. Or you can just have cold brewed coffee, the minimalist version.
  8. restaurant names like never before – in an effort to be new and inventive, owners are picking terms like “luncheonette” and “provisions” to sound unique. Couple this with some wacky ingredient or animal name (think anise hyssop or blue oyster) and you’re all set. Only trouble is everyone else is using the same kind of formula – go figure. It sounds like the new Facebook quiz – “What would your name be if you were a restaurant?”
  9. Lithuanian and South African cuisine – it sounds like someone spun a globe and said “quick, what countries have we not featured on menus recently?” But there are some interesting foods to try – a Lithuanian stuffed potato dumpling called a cepelinai sounds delicious, and I love bobotie, a sort of South African shepherd’s pie.
  10. Pickles – you thought I was going to leave you hanging, didn’t you? Don’t you agree, what with kimchi everywhere now and pickled mushrooms as garnish and pickled fruit on cheese boards… the recession wasn’t that bad we need to preserve everything! I love a crunchy dill pickle like the next person, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

How trendy are you? Does any of this stuff even pique your interest, or are you more of a Meatless Monday, Tuna Casserole Tuesday kind of person? Does your family enjoy trying new things? I’d love to hear your comments.

What You Eat Can Make You Smarter

I was catching up on my foodie reading today and I came across an interesting theme… research that studies the correlation between what foods are in our diet and how that affects not only our physical health but our brain capacity as well. Can what we eat really make us smarter?

As a small child, I was a big fan of fruit. I didn’t eat a lot of meat early on, but fruit was always popular with me, and still is. So of course I was interested to read more about an article that said primates who ate fruit had bigger brains.  If monkeys of similar social groups developed larger brains just because they ate fruit instead of leaves, I should go to the head of the class.

In case you don’t want to read the entire article, the gist is this: searching for hard-to-find fruit over leaves that were abundant and closer to ground level meant fruit eaters were more innovative and critical thinking than their lazier leaf eating neighbours. It made perfect sense when I thought about it.

The bad news is that eating more fruit doesn’t do you or I much good as this kind of development takes evolutionary time to realize the effects. Generations of fruit-eating progeny are required before we would see results. Maybe your great great great great grandchildren would be smarter, but you’re just not getting scurvy.

There is good news, though. The other research article I read was about healthy snacks versus nibbles that had less nutritional value. Did you know that if we have to wait for our food we choose to eat more healthy? Perhaps that is the real reason fast food is mostly junk – if it took longer we would be eating a salad. The researchers called it a time tax on less healthy food choices. They used vending machines at a university, with a 25 second delay on less healthy items and no delay on healthy ones.

Since the experiment did show a positive result, there is talk of extrapolating the concept for more food activities. One suggestion was that grocery store shoppers who chose more healthy options could be streamlined to a faster checkout than those with less healthy items in their cart.

Is this discrimination? Should we be allowed to be unhealthy if we choose? We know people don’t like taxes on “undesirable behaviour” (such as the taxes on alcohol and tobacco). Perhaps positive reinforcement is a less offensive option to encourage our society to “do the right thing”. I guess the catch is, who decides what the right thing is? Today we’re talking about being healthy. Tomorrow what will be the encouraged choice?

What is so mesmerizing about melting cheese?

Have you ever noticed how your Facebook friends keep posting recipes on their news feed, all of them containing cheese? There is always a slow-motion video with a forkful of food and a string of melting cheese or an oozing blob of cheese onto a plate…

I love cheese but those videos are truly over the top. I feel like the next thing on my feed will be a promotion on defibrillators.

Comfort food often involves rich ingredients, and it never seems to be served in small portions. Is that a first world necessity – do we need to show that we can afford to have more on the plate than is advisable, much less required? Where did the idea “more is better” come from?

Okay, bear with me: I looked it up and “more is better” relates to economic theory and indifference curves.  I won’t bore you with the details or the math but suffice it to say that when thinking of things you prefer, your first reaction is usually that more of that preferred thing is better. (I know, the only part that stuck in your head is the idea that somehow economics relates to melting cheese. You’re thinking, “why didn’t my first year Economics prof say THAT?!”)

The problem is, once you reflect on this principle you also realize that at a certain point you are working harder to get something that is giving you less at the end of the day. That’s called “diminishing returns”. With melted cheese, diminishing returns occur when your waistline grows faster than your ability to appreciate a new recipe. (If you want to know the best cheese to use for melting, this link is a quick study. )

The simple truth is, not many people get excited about salad videos. I have worked with kids on the topic of “edible education” and the best competing concept I can offer is to eat a rainbow.   It’s fun to make skewers of fruit or veggies in all colours, and talk about all the different nutrients and tastes they offer. But the kids only really go crazy for cookies or ice cream. (Cheese becomes a fixation when you’re older, apparently.)

I’m not espousing a dairy-free diet. I for one am not giving up cheese anytime soon. I do hope that we can all live healthy enough lives to enjoy more cheese over time. Mostly, I just wanted to share a few random thoughts. Does anyone else wonder about this stuff?

Maybe we should just work to make food more artful. Can you imagine mid-week dinners looking like this?

 

 

 

Food for Foolish Times

April Fool’s Day is coming up this week, and so I thought I would use that as inspiration to be a bit goofy. It could be cabin fever – the delayed arrival of spring has made me a bit stir-crazy. I don’t know about you, but I just feel that a little bit of whimsy is the best way to weather the storm.

Hopefully you will forgive the lack of nutritional value in this week’s recipes and take pleasure in knowing this topic give you water cooler fodder for the week to come!

Did you know that a real seasonal spring food is Peeps? They are a traditional sweet made by a company called Just Born, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; they come most commonly in the form of baby chicks. If you have never seen or heard of Peeps, check the Easter section of the larger grocery stores. If you’d like to see how Peeps are made, you can check out this factory video:

Peeps have a very loyal following, with some people taking their appreciation to quite imaginative heights! There are even such Peep pastimes as Peep Jousts (arm your Peep with a toothpick under his wing for a lance, then put him in the microwave with another combatant and after placing your wagers on the winner, push the ON button. The winner is the one that expands enough to engulf his unwitting enemy.) I could have posted a video on this, but I prefer that you imagine the fun…

There is Peep art – patterns of the charming little fellows glued on canvas that sell for hundreds of dollars. (Peeps do come in an array of colours, allowing for numerous permutations in design, so it’s not as silly as you might think.)

 

Simple indulgence in Peeps is ample goofiness, and you needn’t feel guilty eating them. They are only 32 calories each, and there are 350 million of them made each year, so they are certainly not endangered.

I suppose if you prefer natural foods, you could just stick to regular marshmallows. Did you know they have been around for 200 years and that originally the root of the marshmallow plant was what made them sticky and gooey? This plant was also used to soothe sore throats. I don’t know if you could attest to a marshmallow doing that but it arguably does make you feel better when you eat one.

Whether you like them pre-stuck to Rice Krispies in a square or roasted over an open flame will not diminish the smile that seems to get stuck on your face after eating them.

I have a few final notes for you if you choose to let whimsy strike and indulge in the spongy confection…

  1. Beware anyone brandishing a roasted marshmallow – flaming and sticky is not a very safe combination in the air.
  2. If you do get melted (or manhandled) marshmallow stuck somewhere it shouldn’t be, remember to remove it as soon as possible or it will become like Super Glue.
  3. The best remedy for unsticking marshmallow bits seems to be licking them off, so try to aim for something or someone you like. (If you use peanut butter, be sure to ask about nut allergies first.)

If you like your marshmallow inside something else, here’s a recipe that includes the other seasonal sweet – chocolate.

Chocolate-Marshmallow Brownies

3/4 cup Callebaut chocolate
1 cup unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups white sugar
5 large eggs

Zest of 1 full orange, grated on a “microplane” (fine grater)
1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups small Callebaut chocolate chunks (or chocolate chips)
2 cups miniature marshmallows

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.

Heat chocolate and butter in a pan slowly while stirring, until melted. Stir in sugar until melted and well blended. Cool the mixture 10 to 15 minutes.

Add eggs, orange zest and vanilla and stir until blended. Add flour, salt, and mix again. Add chocolate chunks and marshmallows, and pour into your pan.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until brownies spring back when touched in the centre of the pan. Let cool on a wire rack. Cut and serve at room temperature, dusted with icing sugar if you want to dress them up.

Happy April Fools’ Day 🙂 And if you’re saving yourself, Happy Easter!

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