Category Archives: reference

Springing Up!

I am just back from a vacation to a sunny clime, and I am now home to mud and mostly grey skies.In this environment I look for every scrap of inspiration I can find. Today was my lucky day.

It started out as another grey day.Ella and I walked through the remaining snowy patches amidst the mud and other slippery bits in the orchard (those Canada Geese can be messy creatures). We slipped around as we worked our way home; I endured what I call the swampy smell of pre-spring and Ella revelled in the many earth-borne smells, her nose on overdrive.

The clouds broke this afternoon and the sun proceeded to warm everything, including my sense of gratitude. I wandered out with the dogs to let them get some fresh air and I breathed deep, too. In the brighter afternoon light I could see the new shoots all around…

Crocuses are always some of the first to break ground

Can you see the pussywillows in the foreground?

 

It felt easier to breathe, with the sun and the greenery. The dogs lifted their noses and seemed to fill them up with scents. Usually we walk later in the afternoon but today I decided to seize the moment. I put on my brand-new muck boots and grabbed Ella’s collar and leash. I figured we would see just how spring was advancing.

Ella is a great companion any time of year, but when I am in my winter doldrums she is a wonderful boost to my soul. Her enthusiasm with fresh smells and small puddles is completely infectious. She searches out every new shoot to sniff it out, and every little puddle is worth at least a step – usually more of a splash. The way she bounces into the mud and smiles back at me makes me smile – how can I get mad at such boundless joy?

It was in watching Ella one day on our expedition up the road that I first discovered the wild watercress in the ditch. Now it’s a race for us both to find our spots in the spring – her to splash in the mud, and me to harvest. It takes triple washing at home to make it ready to use, but the peppery flavour and fresh juicy crunch is worth the work. Long before I can harvest any wild lettuce, these leaves are ready to enjoy.

Today the leaves were just barely above the ground, but that’s okay. Every leaf gave me hope. On the way back home I tried to limit the muck damage – I said to Ella, “Try to stay out of the muck”; she trotted squarely through a tire rut full of muddy water and gave me a big grin. All I could do was chuckle.

 

My thanks go out to Diana Gabaldon and her character Claire Randall Fraser, who prompted me to look for wild herbs and plants. (All those Outlander books are sexy but also informative.) Props also to L.L. Bean, who make the best muck boots ever. My last pair held on for 10 years of our daily walks, and I’m excited to rack up the miles on my new ones. But most of all my gratitude is for my Brown Girl, Ella. You can say what you want about having four-legged friends – quality time with a creature so intent on loving life is good for the soul.


 

 

Is food sexy?

I was scrolling through my social media feed looking for inspiration this morning and I found a tweet from one of my fave foodies that instantly got my attention.


Amy Reiley writes about aphrodisiac foods so this tweet isn’t surprising. Her newsletter is one of my favourites. But the fact that the caviar company recommends this method was interesting.

Does this seem like a sexy way to eat? Is caviar a sexy food? Or are you thinking more of Tom Hanks in “Big” when he tasted the stuff…

I have always loved the sensuality of food. The textures, the colours, the beautiful presentation on a plate can be as sexy as an evening gown or a tailored suit in my book. I think a big part of my coming of age was realizing just what power was possible from occasions like lobster dinner a la “Flashdance” (you can look that video up yourself).

Is there a link between one’s passion and feeling that activity is sexy? Is there really such a thing as aphrodisiacs or is it just a ruse to motivate us?

In my humble opinion, making an effort is the key. The key to enjoying food or any other element of one’s life – including sex. I don’t need lobster to turn my husband on at dinner; you’d be surprised what eating a grilled cheese in lingerie will do for your Monday night agenda.

The same goes for the simple enjoyment of food – make an effort to create interesting tastes. For example…

Is winter making you feel bland? How about a spicy soup or stew? Add some chiles and warm yourself from the inside.

Does the plate of food look boring? Garnish it up! Grated cheese over pasta (asiago kicks Parmesan up a notch), chopped fresh green onions over potatoes, balsamic vinegar drizzled over veggies – they all add colour and flavour.

Maybe you’ve already done these things – so, how about wine and food pairing? It’s not as tough as you might think – just focus more n the dominant flavours to match.

You could check out Amy Reiley’s blog, Eat Something Sexy, or her cookbook, Fork Me Spoon Me.

And well, if all else fails, there’s always the grilled cheese and lingerie method 🙂

Bon Appetit!

What’s a thingamajig, exactly?

When I was a kid, I spent time in the kitchen with my Gramps. He was my first babysitter, and the first one to help develop my tastebuds, so needless to say we were good pals. I learned quickly to decipher many of Gramps’ expressions… thingamajigs, and whatchamacallits mostly. In context, and especially with a child’s brain, it was easy to know that he meant he wanted the particular tool for the job – a wooden spoon to stir a pot of something, or a can opener… We managed just fine with our shared language.

As I got older, I learned expressions, too. These ones I use to this day:

Six of one, half dozen of another.

One horse, one rabbit.  (that one is still my favourite; much more unique than the first even though they mean the same thing. I mean, literally “the same thing”.)

I think all this expressive talk throughout my upbringing was meant to prepare me for cooking old-fashioned recipes. Have you ever come across some of the terms cooks of old use? For example, my marmalade recipe calls for “a nob of butter”. Just how much is a nob, you are probably saying?

measuring-kit

Well, thanks to Google almost anything has some information listed but as I learned to cook I had to do more sleuthing. It seems that whether you spell it with a k or not (knob), the amount is similar to a knob on a cupboard (a bit bigger than a tablespoon). If you want to get technical, the most exact description I could find shows that a “nob” is more likely to be slang for a wealthy British fellow (also called a “toff”) or in more of a vulgar sense, the name for a part of a man’s anatomy (I’m sure you can guess which part). A “knob” is where the butter comes in, which is what leads one to think it was in comparison to a cupboard knob.

When I spent a year of university in France, I took on the task of translating old recipes from the 18th and 19th centuries to edit into a cookbook. There were terms such as  “dessert spoon” (not small like I thought, but more like a tablespoon), and glassful (based on a juice glass, so again smaller, about 5 ounces). Of course some of the terms did become standard, like tablespoons and teaspoons and even cups (based on an 8 ounce cup).

Here’s a few more for you, just for fun:

  • dash – 1/8 teaspoon
  • pinch – smaller than a dash, about 1/16 teaspoon *(what fits between your thumb & forefinger when you pinch them)
  • spoonful – a heaping tablespoon (in our house, we call this a Chef’s tablespoon)
  • jigger – 1-1/2 oz (Gramps used this one too – he put a jigger full of rye in his cocktail)
  • peck – 8 quarts, or 32 cups (you know, as in “I love you, a bushel and a peck” – now you know just how much that is!)

So, as always, my message here is to keep your sense of humour in the kitchen, and if all else fails, use your imagination. After all, if someone handed you one of these vintage kitchen tools, what would you do with it?

vintage-kitchen-tools

 

 

The original hacker’s manual

I’m an old-fashioned girl. And, let’s face it, I’m old too. Some of the newfangled stuff out there takes me by surprise, especially when it comes to the language used to explain it. I didn’t know what a “hack” was until my stepdaughter explained the concept to me. Now that I do know, I realize I’ve been a fan of them since before they were called hacks. It’s why I love The Old Farmer’s Almanac.


I’m a sucker for little trivia tidbits and tips on how to make life easier. When I first discovered the Almanac as a young adult, I thought I’d found the mother lode. In those days we didn’t even have a water cooler around which to chat! I just loved the philosophy of their founder, Robert B. Thomas:

“Our main endeavour is to be useful, but with a pleasant degree of humor.”

Did you know that the Farmer’s Almanac is the longest continuously published periodical in North America? The first edition was published in 1792 – when George Washington was President! Its combination of weather forecasts made with uncanny accuracy, gardening guide, recipes, and general advice for around the home has worked for 225 years and they are still going. (The secret formula for weather forecasts is apparently still locked in a little tin box in their head office in New Hampshire.) After all, where else could I find out:

  • A dream of eating stew foretells a reunion with an old friend
  • When the colours orange and blue are placed next to each other, they seem to vibrate
  • The first full moon of the year is called the Wolf Moon. February’s full moon is the Snow Moon (I bet you can guess why!)
  • If you turn clothes inside put before laundering, you can reduce pilling (those annoying little fuzz balls that appear over time)
  • If you see grass in January you should lock away the grain in your granary. (Don’t plant the garden quite yet!)

Are you impressed yet? You can check out more on the Almanac website if you like – and find links to your favourite social media channel too. Just think of all the hacks you can post 🙂

Or you can keep watching here; I’m sure to pepper my posts with little gems from my appointment calendar in the weeks and months to come. 

Wishing for marmalade skies

img_0431It’s another grey blustery day here – this shot is one I took on last year’s holiday in Jamaica. As my bones and I pine for warmer climes and more spectacular sunsets, I search for activities to brighten the day. Thankfully, it’s Seville orange season! So I might not be able to have marmalade skies, but I can have my marmalade on toast. That is, if I get to work and replenish my stock!

Those of you who know me have probably tasted my marmalade if you like the stuff. Many people don’t, I have discovered – more for me, I say! If we don’t know each other personally, I will apologize here and now: I’m sorry, but this is a recipe I don’t share. It was given to me in trust by an Englishwoman who made it regularly for her guests. She and her husband owned a lovely B & B in the Maritimes that I was fortunate enough to visit one summer long ago. They were a charming couple – he a Canadian who served overseas in World War II and her a war bride doing community work, whose husband was killed in service with the RAF. They met again after the war when he came back to London as a widower and connected. Happy endings don’t get any better than that, I think – although they did joke ruefully about their paradoxical plan to “relax as owners of a b & b”. They don’t own the place anymore, but it is still there and still looks as lovely. If I ever get back to that neck of the woods I will certainly visit, and I do recommend you check out Fairmont House in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia.  It’s a quaint seaside town south of Halifax; it was the perfect end to a day on a summer cycling trip.

Now that we are in the world of the internet, you can find endless recipes for a good old-fashioned marmalade. The recipe I have takes 3 days to make – it is not for the faint at heart. But it’s a very heartwarming effort on cold grey winter days.

So, here I go! If anyone wants to come for tea on Thursday afternoon, I’m sure there will be a few spoonfuls to enjoy. I might even make biscuits to put it on!

marmalade-start

Ta ta for now 🙂

 

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