Category Archives: reference

My Moment of Zen

In a world where things move at 4G (or is it 5G now, I can’t remember) and there is a lot of non-stop noise, it’s nice to enjoy a slow and quiet moment. One of my favourite reasons for walking the dog is to have those kind of moments. Another way I take a deep breath is to spend time in my garden. The first method I discovered for stepping back from the fray was reading.

Today I stopped at the local Chapters to stock up on reading material. I do have books at home, but I was looking for inspiration, new information to broaden my horizons. I also have to manage my time and focus on priorities. I don’t know about you, but if I have a good book I have been known to disappear inside it for lengths of time. I can only allow shorter intervals right now, so having something that was of shorter duration was more practical. A few food magazines was just enough to do the trick.

Just buying the magazines put me in a state of euphoria. Choosing publications that offered something unique was important; I don’t need to read about 15 different variations on brownies or omelettes. I wanted something outside the box.

Scooping up the last few issues of Lucky Peach was important; if you haven’t heard of this periodical yet, unfortunately it’s almost too late. The offbeat and ingenious effort from Momofuku’s David Chang and Peter Meehan will be shutting down later this year. (I invite you to at least check out their website for brilliantly written pieces.)

I am a fan of foodie travel, and my current favourite on that front is Saveur. There used to be a similar magazine called Intermezzo which I loved, but I can’t find it anymore. (You have to roll with the punches.) I have learned of cuisines in faraway places, and ingredients I never knew existed. I have added places to my bucket list and filled my kitchen with aromas that had me transported across the world.

As a treat, I picked up a special edition on California wine, as we are travelling there in the fall. Not only will I have some new pairing ideas, I might find a few pit stops. After all, travelling is thirsty work.

Hiding in the back shelves was a title I hadn’t seen before, so I splurged and picked it up too. I love to know how things work and Milk Street is all about the how’s and why’s of a dish. It’s a new publication; I’ll let you know how I like it.

I suppose you could call this literary gluttony a guilty pleasure. There are many websites with foodie information, and articles galore on every topic imaginable. But there is something comforting in putting my feet up and flipping those glossy pages, pondering the delectable food photos as I sip my tea. I consider this akin to meditation, a time for my mind to wander at leisure with no agenda. As much as my workouts are important to stay in shape and my recipe testing helps with my writing, a bit of mental free time helps me find my ways to new ideas. Sometimes, like a walk with Ella where I let her decide the route, my mind will wander down its own path and find a solution to a challenge that doesn’t even involve food.

I read an article today about Paula Wolfert, a renowned cookbook author and icon in the world of food and restaurants. She has Alzheimer’s disease, and so not only does she not remember how to cook many recipes anymore – she also has lost much of her sense of taste. And yet, she is still working with food and with people who want to learn from her. (I can’t wait to read the biography of her that is coming out soon. If you’d like to read the article, it’s on my Facebook page. ) 

Reading Ms. Wolfert’s story reminded me that every moment counts. Even with a life rich in memories, we need to make every effort to live our best life in every moment.  There is a zen saying:

Quiet the mind and the soul will speak.

I’d like my soul’s vocabulary to improve.

 

 

 

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My Favourite Cookbook(s)

I saw a post on Facebook today that asked about favourite cookbooks. They didn’t mean websites, or even online recipes, but rather the good old-fashioned cover-to-cover tomes of cook’s notes on paper. I wanted more than just a tiny comment box to record my thoughts on the matter, so here I am. I’m hoping that my choices may interest someone else – or perhaps a reader may have a cherished volume whose name they will share. Do I need to mention I have more than one favourite?

SENTIMENTAL FAVOURITES

If a favourite volume is designated as such by its frequency of use, then my stained journal with all the recipes of my childhood would win hands down. All my old stand-bys are in there and not only do I make them regularly, I also share them with friends and relatives. They aren’t on the internet in a way I can find them unless I put them in this blog, so the weathered pages are my kitchen bible. When I needed my Auntie Maxine’s foolproof Yorkshire Pudding recipe, that’s where I wrote it. I still use it, and when I get long distance phone calls asking for it, I like it to be handy.

The first cookbook I got as an adult was one my parents bought me. It was aptly named The Only Cookbook. Since I started cooking before the internet was around, it was an important resource. I learned details about roasting meat, making soup, preparing meringue and many other multi-step cooking feats from its pages. I still recommend it as a gift for any young cooking enthusiast leaving the nest. (It’s now even more affordable on Amazon.)

OLD FRIENDS

As for published cookbooks, The Frog Commissary Book has been a good friend for many years. This collection comes from two popular eateries (The Frog and The Commissary) in Philadelphia.  It not only has plenty of practical everyday recipes like Frog Commissary Cookies , the margins of its pages are filled with handy tips about cooking and entertaining, like how to set up a bar for 50 people or an illustrated set of instructions on making lemon crown garnishes. 

The other old friend I would not want to be without is The Chatelaine Cookbook, published in 1965. When I want a recipe for a preserve, or something like waffles or tomato aspic, that is where I look. There are few photos, no tales of how a recipe came about – just straightforward instructions. It’s what my grandmother would have told me if I asked about a recipe.

STYLE (aesthetic and cooking)

For a cooking style as a theme, I still have a fondness for Southwest cooking and my copy of Mark Miller’s Indian Market Cookbook is as useful as it is beautiful. Going to the Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe was on my bucket list for years, but now I live my dream through the pages. Our warm summer climate and relatively mild winters are a good fit for the aromatic and often bold flavours, and I enjoy growing chiles and herbs in the garden that I use in these recipes. Rosemary Pecan Bread is from this book.

TRAVEL

One of my best girlfriends is from South Africa, and I was fortunate enough to visit her there many years ago, and sample some of the ethnically complex and flavourful food. The following Christmas she sent me a copy of Cook with Ina Paarman (she is like her American namesake, Ina Garten – a goddess in the cooking world in her country). You haven’t lived fully until you’ve had Milk Tart. (Full disclosure: this recipe is directly from my girlfriend, Merle. Ina Paarman now has a very comprehensive website, including many recipes.)

REFERENCE

My mom gave me a copy of Larousse Gastronomique not long after I returned from my year living in France. I had spent much time while there researching French recipes through history, and it helped with some of my translations. The encyclopedia format means you need to know what you’re planning to cook if you want a recipe; it is equally as interesting only as a reference for classic European cooking.

 

I have a bookcase full of cookbooks, and I don’t use them all as much as I would like. Still, their presence is a comfort and an inspiration. I guess it is a reflection of my age that the feel of a book in my hands and the action of flipping through pages is much more comforting than typing and tapping through an internet search.

Do you have a favourite cookbook, or did you eschew your collection for an online app? How do you find recipes, and save those you want to make again? I’d love to hear your comments.

Beware the Ides of March

Yesterday was a lighthearted day in the world of food – it was Pi Day (3-14, as in the mathematical value giving the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. ) In my humble opinion it was a construct created by some bored mathematicians trying to justify a bit of dessert, but hey, whatever floats your boat. I suppose one could say we make up for it with today’s significance, in the infamy of the quote from ancient Roman times that forbode the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. A psychic had told the Emperor he would not live past March 15th, and sure enough he was killed on his way to a Senate meeting. His death triggered a civil war.

ITALY – SEPTEMBER 09: The death of Caesar, March 15, 44 BC, by Vincenzo Camuccini (1771-1844), 1798, oil on canvas, 400×707 cm. Detail. Republican, Italy, 1st century BC. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)

Now I don’t intend to rain on anyone’s parade today – it’s Hump Day too, and I try not to add to the stress of everyday life but rather lighten it. So, hang on till the end and you will be rewarded, I promise. I just thought you might find it interesting that the 15th of March is a day prone to unfortunate events, to say the least. (All the more reason for rejoicing when we make it through, right?)

Did you know that March 15 was the day in 1917 that the Czar Nicholas II abdicated the throne, ending a royal dynasty in Russia that had lasted over 300 years? To make matters worse, he and his family did not get to live out their lives happily in exile; they were taken captive and executed a year later. The same day in 1939 is when Germany invaded Czechoslovakia. Things certainly went downhill after that.

Weather phenomena of nasty proportions have taken their toll on the Ides of March as well. In 1889, a cyclone sank six warships off the coast of Samoa. Over 200 sailors died. In 1941, a blizzard blew through the American Midwest; at least 60 deaths were related to the storm. The world record for rainfall on a single day happened on March 15, and NASA announced the alarmingly fast decrease in the ozone layer in 1988.

With all of this historic data – and more – I deemed it necessary to invoke another ancient quote:

carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero

You have likely heard the first part of this quote from the Roman poet, Horace. It usually translates as “Seize the day, trust not in tomorrow”. I agree that Horace’s intent was not to scare people into thinking about death, but rather to take action and make the most of one’s life.

With that in mind, I’ll remind you that it’s #WineWednesday (yes, that really is a thing). If you’re not a wine drinker, you can still toast your good health with your beverage of choice – craft beer, artisan cocktail, home-pressed juice, even a glass of Coke – or filtered water – will do the trick. It’s the action that counts. If you can, support a local business and try something fun. We are very fortunate in the Okanagan to have many wineries and breweries as well as distilleries with wonderful libations, and there are more in other parts of British Columbia. If you’re interested, here are a few references:

And, in the interest of being a responsible drinker and also enjoying life to the fullest, I suggest you add some food to your celebrations. Cheese is lovely with wine, or beer. The folks at Bright Cellars have a wonderful website with a Cheese Quiz that might help you choose (and if you live in the U.S. you can join their cheese club!) Or perhaps some veggies and dip? if I do say so myself, my Hummus recipe is pretty darn good. Even if you’d rather skip ahead to dessert, make the most of it – Chocolate Soufflé fits the decadent side of life, but if you need something more practical, Chocolate Wacky Cake can be whipped up in a jiffy.

However your day is going (or went, depending on when you read this), it’s always worth taking a moment to breathe in and rejoice. I myself feel extra fortunate, since food and drink are most often shared. That gives me one more reason to celebrate; being around a table with others is sustenance on another level.

Top 10 Tips for Staying Fit and Healthy

I want to preface this list by saying that I am NOT an expert in fitness or healthy living. I am not a trainer, and not even very coordinated when it comes to organized workouts. (I was the one in the back of the aerobics class who was always up when everyone else was down.) I tell you this because I want you to know that ANYONE CAN DO THIS. It is worth the effort, and you will feel better.

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me in Oct 2013 before I started Insanity

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me in January 2016 after finishing Les Mills Combat

The biggest step is in choosing to make a change. Yesterday I shared my good fortune and cause for inspiration in my column, Good Genes, Vanity and the occasional Cream Puff. A girlfriend of mine was much more elegant when she said,

‘Take care of your body. It’s where you live.’

Any way you put it, the secret is to just get up and get going. Maybe you don’t “work out” like I do, but get interested in something and move! Use your muscles, use your mind, and most importantly, use your heart. Be inspired, and share your passion. Compliments and encouragement I have had from others has been my biggest motivation. My husband has been my rock, and he spurs me on. Your comment might be what inspires another person.

You do need to be accountable to yourself. Finaccountability-quote-wowd a reason to want to keep going, not an excuse to stop.

 

 

If you do choose some kind of physical exercise as a part of your life, here is what has helped me:

  1. Start small – set yourself up for success. Don’t begin with something like “Insanity” unless you’re already in good shape. Don’t feel like you have to keep up with anyone else in class. This is about the long haul – if you kill yourself now, you’ll never get to see the results.
  2. Find a workout you enjoy, even when it’s tough. If you go to a class and you don’t like how the instructor talks, pick a different class. Not everyone likes to be barked at, but some find it motivating to do boot camp. Find your groove.
  3. Include energy snacks like smoothies around workout time. Women especially can be bad for having enough fuel in their bodies. Let me tell you from experience, you don’t help your diet or your fitness by working out on empty. Get used to having some kind of snack half an hour before your workout, and something afterwards too. You will perform better and improve faster. These are smart calories.
  4. It’s okay to look silly. Especially when you first start, you have to learn the routine. Remember, the instructor you see at the gym or on the DVD has been doing this for a while. You will look better soon. funny-fitness-picture-nailed-it
  5. Use a mirror to help get the moves right. (go back to tip #1 if this stresses you out). Listen to what the instructor says and think about which muscles are working, how they say you should feel (e.g. abs tight, triceps pushing, etc.) You will see your improvements as you get better.
  6. Don’t be afraid to take a break – just don’t give up. The instructors might not be drinking water or stopping, but they do this for a living. When they tell you to drink, do so. If you feel like you need to catch your breath or relax your muscles, that’s okay. Take a short break and then get back in there!
  7. Find someone to encourage you during your workout. Maybe this is a buddy who is with you, or it might be a virtual helper. I have my hubbie who sometimes is there working out and cheering me on when I get tired. I also have a picture of my daworkout-encouragement-minionsd on the wall; he was my first coach, and seeing his face when I feel “blah” always helps me. I know music or motivational talks help others. Find your shot of adrenaline and keep it handy.
  8. You will feel sore, even 2 days after a workout – it means your muscles are getting stronger. (see #10 below for help, and #6. ) The first time I did the “Insanity” program with Shaun T, it took me 90 days and not 60 – and the first 2 weeks I had to pull myself up the stairs using the railing. But I made it. That was 3 years ago.
  9. Eat and drink properly. Drinking at least 2 litres of water is one of the best healthy habits you can have. Eating as much natural food as you can is another. Eat to enjoy the food, to fuel your soul. It will thank you. (remember, this includes the occasional cream puff!)
  10. Vary your workout, and take days off. You might really like a certain DVD or class at the gym, but your muscles need to be confused to really improve. Changing exercises helps you work all the muscles and not just certain ones. (I have 20 different workouts I rotate through.) life-is-like-riding-a-bike-einstein Days off also help your muscles recover enough so you can push harder without injury.  *This is where you might want a trainer to help you out, especially if you work out on your own.

I hope this helps. I’d love to hear your comments, whether you are new to this or you have secrets you want to share. For me being healthy is just as much about being in shape as it is eating good food. I want to live long enough to enjoy all those meals on my bucket list. I want to share those memories with loved ones. I want to pass along my passion to young people so they can live happy and healthy lives.

The last part of this puzzle is our body image. Especially for women, this is an ongoing battle that continues to frustrate many. I can’t say that I love where our society is at in representing the female form; I thought we would be better about appreciating individuals by now. It seems to me if we can be happy and healthy in our own skin, then that shape is our ideal form. We are not all meant to be “skinny bitches”, if you’ll pardon the term.

 

I’d like to close on positive thoughts:  Get some exercise to feel good. Eat good food. Love yourself. Share all those good things with others. It’s what I call the good life. We all deserve it.

me and my hubbie on holiday in Jamaica, January 2015

 

Good Genes, Vanity and the occasional Cream Puff

People often ask me how I do it – here I am chatting about eating all this good food and I’m married to a French chef who cooks cream sauces and chocolate cakes, and yet I look slender and fit. I decided it was high time I let everyone in on my secret.

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The title says it all, but I will explain in more detail.

I am blessed with good genes: I’m 6 feet tall and I have a slender build, coming from both my mom’s Celtic side and my dad’s Scandinavian side. Thankfully, good health has also been a state I have enjoyed so far in life (almost any time I’ve spent in hospital has been to visit someone else). I don’t have any food allergies, and I have lived a largely middle class life.

I was brought up in an environment that encouraged me to be confident, to know that I was special and beautiful and capable – even in my teenage years when I didn’t feel those things were possible (just like most people, especially girls). As a result, I feel pretty good about my body and I like it when I am feeling fit and healthy, and attractive. A healthy dose of vanity is a great motivator against the feelings of wanting to be a couch potato during a Canadian winter or after having been dumped by a boyfriend or on a day when one just feels “blah”.

(This is where you’re going to either chuckle or snigger in disgust…) The occasional cream puff, or scoop of double chocolate Haagen-Daaz, or extra handful of popcorn or Cheezies is not only a reasonable guilt-free indulgence in my book, it’s essential to the balance in one’s life. I am of the opinion that diets do no good at all when undertaken as a sole method of weight loss or fitness improvement. If you want to lose weight, start first by looking at your portion sizes. Exercise and diet need to go hand in hand if you expect to achieve a lifestyle change; crash dieting, like cramming for an exam, very rarely helps you achieve success.

Now that I have given you some background, I will offer my two cents on how I have managed to keep up with a fitness regime in my 50’s.

First, deal with your background:

  1. if you didn’t get lucky with good genes, give yourself a break – don’t expect to look like a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, and don’t feel bad about it. We aren’t all supposed to look like one vision of “beautiful”.
    • SIDE NOTE: if you are supporting someone who is on this journey, remember that compliments have huge impact. Remind them what they are doing is worth it, tell them they are looking good.
  2. if you aren’t feeling up to be vain, try faking it at first. No really, just trust in yourself and think of your goal (looking and feeling attractive and strong). Consider a bit of vanity as a reward for your work so far – you might not have that six-pack yet, but you will!
  3. if you’re afraid to break a diet or indulge, find a happy medium. Maybe food isn’t where you indulge, but rather a bit of shopping – new make-up? a night at the movies? a good book? You need to feel that there is a balance between the work you’re doing to improve yourself and the rewards of doing that work.
    • SIDE NOTE: cue the support network again! Friends and relatives, you are the cheerleaders that help us keep up the good work. It’s easy to make a resolution and get through that first few sessions at the gym or running or whatever. We need your help to keep going for the long term.

Next, set yourself up for success. You need to find something that will work for you, and you need to remember we are all human – there are times when this will be tough. The secret is this:

Find a reason that makes your self-improvement a priority for the long term in your life – why would you keep doing this, what would make you feel like doing this on a bad day?

Sometimes the reason is dramatic – people can start a fitness regime because they know someone who suffered from not being fit. (It’s like not smoking because you know someone who died of lung cancer.) Other times it is more simple – people can just decide that their own sense of wellness is a top priority. (I think this is easier to justify the older we get.) Basically you need to want to be healthy MORE than wanting to go overboard on any unhealthy habits.

I will leave you with all those thoughts for tonight, and I’ll post my Top Ten Tips for Staying Fit & Healthy tomorrow. Even if you don’t jump on the bandwagon for this kind of lifestyle, perhaps this one idea will inspire you…

Insert a bit of good health each day with seven options (try each one at least once a week):

  1. Make salad for dinner, with whatever vegetables and/or fruit you want but only one kind of protein as an ingredient.
  2. Walk the dog or the kids for 30 minutes. (If you don’t have a dog or kids and can’t borrow any, put your earbuds in and play 30 minutes of music while you walk.)
  3. Eat breakfast sitting down – a meal consisting of a glass of water and a glass of juice or coffee or tea, some protein (peanut butter or yogurt or cheese or eggs or quinoa porridge are all good), and some fibre (from fruits or whole grains).
  4. Drink 6 -8 glasses of water (8 ounces or 250 mL each). Don’t count any other kind of liquid in this total.
  5. Eat fruit or veggies with every meal you have.
  6. Spend 5 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes in the evening doing some light stretches and deep breathing (e.g. roll your head down towards your toes and hang there for a few breaths, stretch side to side, etc.)
  7. Give yourself a break – have an ice cream, or take a day off your workout regime… it’s okay to just enjoy the day and the company.

 

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