Category Archives: seasons

The Staff of Life

 

I love bread. I find it satisfying, intimidating, humble and rewarding, all at the same time. As a young person cooking, bread was a daunting chapter in any cookbook. It was not until recently that I screwed up the courage to take on that food central to survival for so long; the staff of life.

In my teen cooking years, I was thrilled to discover I could veer onto the side road known as “Quick Breads”, and worked up my confidence with Soda Bread, Zucchini Bread, Baking Powder Biscuits and cornmeal muffins.

One of my childhood friends was German, and her mom did a lot of hearty baking. She had an old family recipe for bread rolls that she made once a month. If the universe was smiling on me, I would happen to be stopping at my friend’s house after school, and we would be allowed to have a warm bun with butter. It was my first taste of Nirvana.

buns with butter

I have been working with my sourdough starter for a year and a half now, and I am still humbled every time I make a loaf. Just when I think I am the master, the starter behaves differently or the weather changes or the flour combination seems not work as well… it’s all edible, but I am far from the works of art I see on Instagram and in my cooking magazines. Those elusive bubbles and the intricate scoring patterns are like a foreign language – one in which I have only learned a few greetings and a few cuss words, like any other novice.

Yesterday, though, I think I got back to the heart of the matter. I made a recipe that I turned into a sort of pull-apart loaf and some rolls, and it was divine. It was an enriched yeast dough that I just happened to add some starter into, so it was truly a mish-mash of ingredients and techniques. But never mind, it worked. It tasted good. Even my chef hubbie said so!

I think perhaps that my interpretation of bread being “the staff of life” involves a more complex sort of survival than just sustenance. The shared experience of breaking bread is truly part of the magic for me. The love shared for the meal is also something I crave. (Like they say, we cannot live by bread alone.)

So I’m rejuvenated for another day, another effort, another bake. Leaving more crumbs, in case there is someone else out there, struggling along the same road. I posted my Kindred Spirit Milk Rolls, as a record of my progress and a message for those souls who want a taste of the magic.

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It’s all in the wrist

You know how sometimes life gets ahead of you? Good intentions trip you up and instead of checking items off your “to do” list you are mired in the weight of the list itself and spinning your wheels.  I love to try new things and to share my excitement at new discoveries, but I have been caught in a hamster wheel for a while with things I told myself were “more important”. I was making excuses instead of getting organized.

But now I’m back, and I’m so glad I have this safe space to come back to. I still haven’t completed that list, but I did bake brownies today. And I feel so much better for it. It’s about following through, I discovered.

The recipe is one I saved over a year ago and never got around to trying. Red Wine Brownies (yes, really). Please don’t wait that long – they are really good. Sarah at Broma Bakery knows her stuff.

It seems so silly now that I’m here writing – I try to live not feeling guilty for indulging in life and yet that’s what stopped me from taking time to write or try new recipes. I felt guilty because I didn’t have everything done I thought I should do. Foodie heal thyself, right?

Okay, so I’m human. Today I took Ella for a walk and we decided we should stop by the local fruit market for ice cream. It turned out to be a rather nice fall day, and they will be closing soon for winter, so it was a “carpe diem” kind of inspiration. You know,

Eat ice cream, breathe the fresh air, shuffle in the leaves; for soon it will all be cold and white.

Root beer float and Tiger Tiger, on a waffle cone of course. I only ever eat Tiger ice cream in a cone. I have to say, the combination with root beer may be a new classic I want to lay claim to. It was like a key to a time warp that made me feel ten years old again. Living in the moment. Ella seemed to approve too, although her tastes are not very discriminatory when it comes to ice cream cone bottoms.

I felt a wonderful sense of pride and accomplishment seizing that beautiful moment. After all, I had spent the morning inside doing housework. I deserved a break. (And even if I hadn’t done housework, why not say “Yay me!” for making a memory?”)

The brownies didn’t get made until after dinner, since other tasks were prioritized. But they only took about 10 minutes to whip up, and then just 35 minutes in the oven. They were lukewarm when I cut into them to serve.

Hubbie was very happy I made brownies, and even happier when they showed up in a bowl with ice cream and a drizzle of caramel sauce and crushed toasted pecans. I was happy when I tucked my spoon in for the first bite and realized how gorgeously gooey and rich (not sweet) they were. Thank you, Sarah!

Broma Bakery red wine brownies

The thought did cross my mind as my spoon headed to my lips: “this is the second time I’m eating ice cream in a single day – and I only bothered to stretch today, didn’t even really work out!” I swallowed that thought with the bite of brownies – it was delicious.

So, there you are. I’m human. Not at all perfect. Completely fallible. But I can bake a good brownie with a little direction. And now that I have my momentum back, I may even come up with a variation on something or a new idea. Just watch me! Like my Dad used to say when I was trying to improve my clutzy basketball skills, “It’s all in the wrist.” One just has to follow through.

 

You could fry an egg on the sidewalk!

We are in the midst of a heat wave. It’s not unusual for where I live at this time of year; the Okanagan is the northernmost tip of the Sonoran desert that runs through much of North America. It is a summer vacation destination, so many people are on holiday and don’t worry too much about being hot. For those of us working though, it’s tricky when the outdoor temperature is at or above body temperature. I bet you really could fry an egg.

Thankfully we have Okanagan Lake and a few other lakes along the length of the valley. They allow for moderate temperatures much of the year, but there is always a week or so that makes the mercury boil. I work mostly outside in the summer, long hours, but I vow not to complain because I am someone who dislikes cold much more than heat. I am thankful I don’t work in the snow and ice, and I am in a happy environment sharing in people’s celebrations. It could be worse. If sweating a little (okay, some days more than a little) is the price I pay, so be it.

It is especially delicious when we get to cool off. Some days we get down to the lake with the dogs and all of us go for a swim. Other days, it’s a soak in the tub, maybe even with a cocktail if we finish work early enough. At the very least, we can wander down the road for an ice cream cone at our local favourite, Paynter’s Fruit Market.

When I was a kid, it was easy to beat the heat. You gathered a few friends and someone turned on the sprinkler. Ta da! Instant fun. Or you listened for the ice cream truck – it was bound to come by sooner or later. Then you could critique your friends’ choices (“ice cream sandwiches are better than fudgsicles, for sure!”), and decided whose tongue turned the best colour.

I don’t hear an ice cream truck anymore, and kids seem to play at municipal water parks instead of in back yards. As long as they find some way to have honest-to-goodness fun, what does it matter? A little bit of creativity is all it takes.

I am reminded of a podcast I heard one hot summer day years ago, by the late great Stuart McLean. It made me think of a summer with my cousins when we had an epic water fight. In case you are in need of inspiration on a hot summer day, here it is:

Vinyl Cafe – The Waterslide

With that said, I am going to close now, and see if perhaps the dogs want to frolic a bit in the shade with the hose. The sweat is dripping down my nose as I write this, sitting even in the shade…

Splendour in the Grass


My last post was about the simple joy of the flowers in the garden, and when I stop to smell the flowers, as my mom always encourages, it makes me think of my favourite verse in a poem I studied in high school, “Ode. Imitations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”.

Then sing, ye birds, sing, sing a joyous song!
And let the young lambs bound
As to the tabor’s sound!
We in thought will join your throng,
Ye that pipe and ye that play,
Ye that through your hearts to-day
Feel the gladness of the May!
What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be;
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering;
In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.

-William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

As a teenager, I loved the rhyme but the meaning of the words didn’t really sink in. For some reason though, it stuck in my head, and as I get older it becomes increasingly poignant.

Perhaps my romantic nature is part of why I became a foodie. The nature of a meal is ephemeral at best, lasting only as long as food is on the table. Capturing the magic of shared company and tastes (in the food and the people) has created the fabric of so many memories for me. That fabric has become the tapestry of my life.

The garden has the same quality, always changing and following the circle of life. It has been a great lesson for me to learn that the faster I cut away the old blooms, the sooner the plants will offer up more in return. (Turning a blind eye only prolongs the sorrow, with dead stalks waving in the wind instead of the vibrant colour of new life.)

Another of my favourite writers is Tom Robbins, a more modern fellow than Mr. Wordsworth, but with the same romantic tendencies. He spoke of childhood too, and how as adults many of us search to maintain that sense of wonder kids know innately.

I’ll close off with a quote from “Still Life with Woodpecker”, one of my most cherished reads of all time.

The romance of new love, the romance of solitude, the romance of objecthood, the romance of ancient pyramids and distant stars are means of making contact with the mystery. When it comes to perpetuating it, however, I got no advice. But I can and will remind you of two of the most important facts I know:
1. Everything is part of it.
2. It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.
― Tom Robbins, Still Life with Woodpecker

If it seems a bit obtuse, I can only recommend you read the book. If it makes sense, well then I hope we come into contact some time so we can share in the magic.

One a Penny, Two a Penny…

Did you have hot cross buns for breakfast today? I did. Do you know why we have them at Easter? I remember the rhyme from childhood, but I must admit that not having a religious upbringing I didn’t know the history of this seasonal sweet bun. As I sat munching and sipping my tea this morning I did some research, and I figured I can’t be the only one who didn’t know all the tidbits I found. So, here you go – new knowledge for your brain.

Let’s start at the beginning: Easter Sunday is the celebration at the end of Lent, commemorating the resurrection of Jesus. Lent is the period before Easter, starting on or about Ash Wednesday  (depending on your religion),  and ending just before Easter. It signifies the 40 days that Jesus wandered in the desert, and those observing Lent solemnly honour his sacrifice by many activities that seek to bring them closer to God. Fasting as Jesus did, or giving up luxuries in life is usual for the faithful during Lent; prayer, penance and repentance are also common. Hence the common expression, “giving up (something) for Lent”.

The Lenten fast of ancient times was much more broad and strict than it is today, in some places allowing only bread in one’s diet, but for most removing all animal products and allowing no meals until later in the day or the evening. Nowadays, a fast usually involves a full meal and up to two “collations” – sustenance to keep one going, but not so much as to count for a full meal. Some people do not fast but do remove meat from their diets, either for all of Lent or at least on Ash Wednesday and on all Fridays and Saturdays in Lent. Lent ends either on Good Friday, or at midday on Easter Saturday, depending on your faith.

Since no animal products were allowed during Lent, sweet breads (containing milk, eggs and/or butter) would not be on the menu. Therefore, hot cross buns would be eaten at the end of Lent. They are not just a random treat, either – the cross on the top signifies the crucifixion of Jesus, and the spices represent those used to embalm him for his funeral. The first hot cross bun was apparently baked by a monk in medieval times.

The solemn nature of hot cross buns is not to be taken lightly – in 1592, Queen Elizabeth I actually forbid their sale on any day but holy days (Good Friday, Christmas, or for funerals). The punishment for selling them was to have all your product donated to the poor. James I of England did the same thing in the 1600’s; for many years you could not find a hot cross bun recipe, as the buns were only made in secret by home bakers. The first modern record of them is a written account of street sellers hawking them in the 1700’s, the source of the nursery rhyme I remember:

Hot cross buns!
Hot cross buns!
One a penny, two a penny.
Hot cross buns!

If you have no daughters,
Give them to your sons!
One a penny, two a penny.
Hot cross buns!

Of course, as with most things that carry such significance there are many bits of folklore attached to hot cross buns. Did you know…

  • hot cross buns are said to have healing powers? If you give one to someone who is sick, it can help make them better (perhaps this comes from sharing them with those less fortunate?)
  • hot cross buns don’t go bad? If you hang one in your kitchen on Good Friday, it will bode for good breads all year long, and keep your house safe from fire and bad spirits. (the preserved fruit would help keep the bun fresher, but I’m not sure I would keep it up for a full year.)
  • hot cross buns are full of luck? Taking one on a sea voyage will prevent a shipwreck, and it is said that friends sharing a bun will have a strong bond of friendship in the coming year. (Any hope against shipwreck was probably worth trying; as for friendships, well who wouldn’t want a pal that shared their treat?)

Although I don’t observe any traditional religion, I do certainly believe that sharing oneself with loved ones and in the community is important. I also believe that to be a good person requires thoughtfulness and focus. As such, I can understand the importance of Easter and appreciate its solemn history.

So, in honour of Easter, may you enjoy every moment. Whether you celebrate a feast day that is at the centre of your faith, or your family, or both, I wish you well this Easter weekend.

Peace be with you.

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