Category Archives: winter
Today was Epiphany. The twelfth day of Christmas. It is by some accounts the day the Magi came to see the Christ child. Others believe it represents the baptism of baby Jesus. It is a Christian feast day, complete with a special cake, called King Cake or Galette des Rois.
In Iceland it’s called Þrettándinn, representing the day the 13 mischievous Yule lads return to their parents at their home in the mountains. There are bonfires at many locations throughout towns and country; if one is lucky, one might see an Elf Queen or King dancing around the flames.
In any country, with any beliefs, the holiday celebrations are at an end. A New Year has begun and we start afresh. The tree comes down, the lights go out, the parties stop. Resolutions for a new diet or gym regime, or setting new goals at work take up our time.
And so it goes. We move into “the rest of the year”, full of little things, day-to-day stuff. Some of us look forward to the next holiday, the next celebration. Others are grateful for little things day by day. And still others just put their heads down and try not to think about anything but the finish line.
C’est la vie, as the French say. Life goes on, day by day. Apparently athletes who win a big game – say, the Super Bowl – feel bereft, even depressed, after all the celebrating is over. I think the same thing happens with some people after Christmas. We go into a sort of withdrawal.
As I sit here watching the snow fall that eluded us for most of the holidays, I am cataloging all my special moments and saving them in my mind. I don’t plan on packing them up like the ornaments for the tree. I’m going to keep them handy and use them on bleak days. But for most days, I’m going to just live, and look for the little things that make my day.
The things that people were the most grateful for were the ordinary things in life. The sound of your spouse’s laugh, the smell of morning coffee, the echo of children playing in the yard. The little things. In waiting for the big moments – the vacations, the retirements, the birthdays – we risk missing the experiences of life most worthy of celebrating. — John O’Leary
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.
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.
In honour of Hot Toddy Day, and because I plan to binge watch the last few episodes of Outlander tonight, I thought it fitting that I share a good recipe for the drink that is supposed to be the perfect cure for a dreary winter and the mood we often have to accompany it.
I am generally a fan of hot drinks on a cold day, and I do love trivia, especially as it pertains to food and drink. Toddies not only have a connection to Scotland but also to the American Revolutionary War, so they make a perfect fit with the Outlander story. Of course, some Outlander fans would say you don’t need a hot drink to warm up while watching such a sexy romantic tale, but well, better safe than sorry!
It is said that the first use of “toddy” for a drink was in India, where the fermented sap from a toddy palm was used to sweeten a cold drink in British colonial times. This recipe of a spirit with lemon, spices and sweetener made its way back to Britain, and it was the practical Scots who decided it would work well hot as a cure for the common cold.
Believing strongly in the power of preventative medicines, the Scots made the hot toddy a popular beverage. Their presence during the time of the American Revolutionary War (just like Jamie Fraser in the Outlander stories) was what brought the drink to North America. It is said the colonists liked the drink for liquid courage, but I think perhaps it might just have been to stave off the cold, damp weather.
I was a bit surprised a recipe wasn’t included in the Outlander Kitchen Cookbook, one of my favourite themed recipe collections. (It contains so many other wonderful gems that I will use that common old Scottish phrase – “dinna fash” – if you’re thinking this makes it unworthy. On the contrary, I recommend it most highly for anyone with even a passing fancy for Scottish tastes and a love of history.
You can use the spirit of your choice to make a toddy, but here I’m offering what I believe would be the Scottish recipe. Lemons wouldn’t have been common in Scotland or America in the times of the colonists, but feel free to add a slice of lemon if you’d like a more worldly twist.
Spices too are adaptable; traditionally the slice of lemon is stuck with a few whole cloves before it is dropped in the glass, and a cinnamon stick garnishes the drink. If you’re feeling adventurous, a few pink peppercorns or a slice of ginger root can kick things up a notch.
I believe that a Highlander such as Jamie Fraser would have chosen a smoky, peaty Scotch like Laphroaig, but if your tastes are more mellow then perhaps a Glenmorangie would be to your liking. Feel free to experiment with different options. Just remember not to do it if you have to get up and drive afterwards.
Claire Fraser would undoubtedly have a stash of spices in her medicine kit, knowing the benefits of such things as cinnamon and cloves. With their time in the Caribbean, I like to think she might still have had a few treasures that could have helped raise the spirits of a toddy drinker, and perhaps eased the jolt from such a forceful libation.
As a last tip, I’ll offer a few tips on the vessel you use:
- if you use a glass, put a metal spoon in the glass before you add the hot water. This will conduct the heat and prevent it from cracking.
- if you choose a metal mug, remember it will conduct the heat very well – even handles can get hot, so be careful. It would be a shame to waste a good drink by dropping it on the ground.
SCOTTISH HOT TODDY
Instructions: Add 1 1/2 ounces of Laphroaig 10 (or another Islay Scotch) and 1 teaspoon of honey or maple syrup to a heat-safe glass. Season with lemon or orange, studded with a few whole cloves if desired, and a sprinkle of nutmeg or cinnamon. Heat 3 ounces of water to a near-boil and pour into glass; stir until honey is dissolved.
A New Year. Endless possibilities. A whole world of opportunity and adventure. And the chance to get back to more healthy eating and avoid the never-ending indulgences of baked goods and cocktails. It all sounds simple in theory.
But I’m sitting here wishing there were just a few mincemeat tarts left, or maybe one more lebkuchen. My cup of tea is lonely. I did work out this morning, so I would be deserving of a wee something, wouldn’t I?
It’s hard to start fresh. The pressure of new goals, new resolutions, hopes for improving oneself; it’s all a lot to handle. I wonder if it didn’t come on the heels of all that Christmas spirit, would even bother attempting such lofty efforts? Who can blame us if we need a little help in getting over the hump?
The Epiphany is the closing gesture on our holiday season, by some accounts the twelfth day of Christmas. I like to celebrate in the French tradition, with a Galette des Rois, but I have also enjoyed the New Orleans version with an English name: King Cake. Either way, it’s a nice treat to share, shaking off the after-Christmas blues and giving us that kickstart for the New Year.
Food is sustenance, in many different ways. Perhaps as a gourmand, I need more sustenance than the average soul. The ambience of a good meal shared around the table is as fulfilling as the meal itself.
One of my kindred spirits, Winnie the Pooh, expressed this philosophy best.
“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”
“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”
“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.”
So whether a piece of cake does the trick, or the company of a friend with whom to share that cake, it’s still time well spent (and calories well consumed, if you ask me.)