Chocolate and Nuts, in a New Way

Chocolate and peanut butter. Some people aren’t crazy about the combination, but most North Americans love it. It could be argued that this is the best example of a truly original American taste.

Did you know that Mr. H.B. Reese invented the chocolate covered peanut butter cup? Yes, there really was a Mr. Reese. And guess what? He worked for Hershey’s before he left to create his own candy company in the 1920’s. Apparently the one condition Hershey’s had for him when he left was that he buy all his chocolate from them. How about that!

Even today, almost one hundred years after this unique confection was created, it is still the best selling candy in America. Hershey’s bought the company in the 1960’s but the Reese name still sticks. Even the increase in people allergic to peanuts has not slowed their popularity.

I am a big fan of chocolate and peanut butter together. Peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips are more than a bit better, they are close to nirvana. Chocolate peanut butter ice cream, if well made, should probably be illegal. But I had never made an actual candy with chocolate and nut butter.

To be fair, the recipe I used was for cashew butter with chocolate. It’s good, but next time I’m going to use peanut butter. My brain tasted the finished product and I could hear it saying inside my head, “it’s fine, but it would be just that much better if it was the real thing.”

I’ll let you decide. Perhaps you are allergic to peanuts. Since cashews are a tree nut, they might be a good alternative. You can easily leave out the pomegranate seeds in this recipe, too – add dried cranberries instead if you like, or nothing. Power Bark is good even if you make it with just the chocolate and the nut butter. Just sayin’.

 

New Month, New Start

Today is May Day, a celebration in many parts of the world – some countries have made it a workers day, and others have it as a celebration of spring, an evolution of pagan festivals such as Beltane. I am always struck by nature’s timeline on this day, perhaps because I live in Canada where the winter weather likes to linger.

It seems this year I am leaning more to the other side of May Day’s meaning – I need help to get out of my winter funk. I was in the garden this morning with my fingers in the dirt and that was a good tonic but wearing two woolly layers and still having my gumboots dampened my mood, if you’ll pardon the pun. My Lilies of the Valley have come up, but are far from blooming yet this year, so there will be no real “Fête du Muguet” for me.

The naval term “mayday” was created in 1923 by a British radio operator who came up with an easily recognizable phrase (he was inspired by the French “m’aider”, meaning “help me”). It is repeated 3 times when calling for help, to make sure everyone hears it correctly. It seems to me that wouldn’t be too hard in disastrous situations; one has a tendency to shout and repeat things. When the clouds get low and the wind blows day after day I feel like I should run out in the yard and send out this call.

I suppose a better way to deal with our long winter is to engage in the celebration of moving forward, though. I flipped the calendar pages and I will be planting the last of my greenhouse seedlings today. I will bake a pound cake to signify the sweeter time of summer with sunshine and warmth. (Historically, this was when grazing animals were put out to pasture to feed on the wild grasses and flowers, making butter and milk richer and more flavourful.)

I’ve always wanted to dance under a Maypole, but that will take some more work. There is something romantic and wistful about maidens in flowing dresses dancing with ribbons barefoot in the grass. Maybe I’ll put together a fairy garden. No one will notice if I tiptoe out tonight to dance with the little ones and have my own Beltane ritual.

The Fairy Dance (1875) – Richard Doyle

Occupational Hazards

I work with food and wine. Much of why I do is because it is a passion to share good food and drink with others. I love to see people enjoying time around a table for a meal.

In the summer season much of what I do is helping cater large events, like weddings and corporate appreciation events. This is not a cozy dinner party, unless you can imagine fitting 150 people in your dining room. On top of that, we prepare fresh food on site from scratch and my hubbie (the chef) cooks slow food – southern style BBQ meat.

a wedding buffet at Ancient Hills Winery, in Lake Country

wedding dinner at Okanagan Centre Hall in Lake Country

These events work out to about a 14 hour day, usually. Much of it is outside in the elements, since we live in a piece of Paradise – the Okanagan. Who wouldn’t want to celebrate an event in the summer here?

wedding ceremony at Silver Sage Stables in Lavington

a private wedding and reception lakeside in Coldstream

wedding reception on the crush pad at La Stella Winery in the South Okanagan

private wedding and reception by the lake on the Westside

I don’t tell you all this to make me sound special – my work day in the catering world is a variation on the work day most people spend if they work in the restaurant industry. The irony is, at the end of those work days I don’t feel much like eating or drinking any of the fine food we prepared. I taste of course, all day long, but by the end of service when there is time to eat, I’m tired and just want to wrap up. (I also feel like if I sit down I might not get up again.)

Tomorrow is the first wedding of the season. Today I’ve got my ducks in a row, getting platters ready and double-checking all the little details. I planned out my layers of clothes to wear in our less-spectacular-than-usual spring weather. I have snacks loaded in my bag: a banana, energy bar, nuts and raisins, and lots of water. I’m good to go!

Every occupation has its hazards. I can be grateful that mine are only that my feet hurt, my muscles are tired and I don’t have the energy to eat wonderful food for a day. There is no need to feel sorry for me, that’s for sure. On top of it all, I get to share in the joy of some momentous occasions. That is worth missing a meal in my book. I go to bed knowing that I have helped make great memories.

 

 

A Tisket, A Tasket, A Biscuit in a Basket

I know, I’m sorry – I didn’t post anything all weekend, not even on Monday. In my defense, I was busy being a gourmand – in the garden planting and pruning during the day and at a table enjoying food and drink with friends at night. There simply was no time left to catalog it all. But I took pictures, so here I am catching up.

We love brunch. Everything about this blended meal appeals to us, and so we work it into our schedule whenever we can. Since we work on many Sundays, it’s a particularly joyous treat when we do get the time to lounge over all the flavours. Brunch is a foodie’s meal.

Brunch was invented by an Englishman in the late 19th century. Believe it or not, Guy Beringer first publicized the idea in an essay defending the case for weary social butterflies suffering from a successful Saturday party. A traditional English breakfast which started with heavy meat pies and other rich proteins was too drastic, so brunch allowed people to ease into a meal, and the day. The idea was to start with “tea pastries”, and perhaps even have a bit of hair of the dog with a cocktail. If brunch was a real thing, he proposed, people wouldn’t be judged harshly for proceeding this way. Interestingly, the concept didn’t catch on in North America for more than thirty years.

Even when we do have a big work day ahead, we have been known to salvage a component of a brunch meal to raise our spirits. Even without a Caesar or a glass of bubbly, a bit of brunch works wonders to make me feel spoiled even on a work day.

Last weekend was hectic with yard projects and deck building so there was no time to waste. Saturday we went all out, and Sunday we dragged our tired selves out of bed to get back at it. My hubbie decided we deserved a treat and so he whipped up some biscuits with the first of the fresh herbs in the back garden. Thanks to Ina Garten’s fantastic biscuit recipe and some of our chili grape jelly, I got to feel spoiled if only for a mere half hour.

Pulling a warm biscuit out of the basket was a highlight of my day.


I might not have had a hangover on Sunday morning but my sore muscles were grateful for the chance to ease into the day. Mr. Beringer was so right:

“Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting. It is talk-compelling,” Beringer wrote. “It makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings.”

 

Being a Good Steward of the Earth

Ah, Spring! Blossoms abound, and the buzzing of bees and twittering of birds are hard to ignore. It is a time when most of us feel happily connected to the earth. The days are getting longer and the landscape gets greener. Really, what’s not to like? But are we truly connected to the planet? Do we understand what helps keep the planet healthy? Perhaps it’s a good idea that we have Earth Day on April 22 to remind us to be responsible planetary citizens.

Did you know that Earth Day has been around since 1970? A U.S.  senator first launched the idea – he wanted to bring attention to the environment after seeing the effects of an oil spill in California. He capitalized on the enthusiasm of student protests from the late 1960’s, and organized a group to promote events across the nation. There were 20 million Americans in the streets on April 22nd that first year in support of a healthy, sustainable planet. In 1990 the program was taken to the world, and Canada was one of the nations to adopt it. Almost thirty years later we are still working to maintain our environment.

Natural food has always been at the heart of the environmental movement, not just because of nutrition and eating seasonally and locally but also now with the affects of chemicals on animals, soil and air. Talk of bees and other pollinating creatures being at risk due to changes in our environment add another layer of danger to our natural world.

Can I plant enough wildflowers to help the bees win their battle? Can I convince enough children that they can make a difference if they eat a fresh apple instead of processed applesauce made across the world, or have homemade salad dressing instead of something in a bottle with added preservatives and sugar?

I spend time with kids in my volunteer work, both through Girl Guides and the Farm to Fork education programs in which I take part. Kids are aware of being responsible about recycling and not wasting energy, but they are also used to consuming processed packaged food and using all kinds of products to make life easier.

Products and packaging end up in the earth through landfills or sewers, despite the bits that gets recycled. Sometimes I wonder if we haven’t just adapted through technology – we have more ways to be earth-conscious, but we consume more stuff so we just recycle more. I am grateful for the sincerity and enthusiasm the kids have. It gives me hope to see their passion for our planet; they want to make it a better place.

Is Earth Day one you will mark on your calendar? Do you feel you make an effort towards having a sustainable planet? I remember 1990 – I was in the bicycle business back then, and the shop I managed was very keen to promote cycling as a clean mode of transport. I met a guy named Dave who became a guru for many of us at the shop. He was trying to live a pure life, he said, getting in touch with Nature. He wore hemp clothing, and was a vegetarian.

The most striking thing about Dave was the aura of peace he had. He wanted to be your friend, to hear what you were about. He thought if we could all just slow down and take the time to hear each other’s stories that perhaps we could find common ground where we could live in harmony. We called him Dave Zen.

A few years later I left the bike business and Calgary and I lost touch with Dave Zen. I have often wondered over the years what became of him. I imagine him in a community somewhere, a sort of co-operative where people have found the secret to a long and happy life. When I spend time with the kids, sometimes I see the same glimmer in their eyes that I saw in his, and that makes me smile.

So, in honour of Earth Day, my recipe this week is one from Dave. It may look overly healthy and you might be suspicious as a result, but trust me, Dave Zen Orbit Oatmeal Cookies are truly awesome. They taste the best when you eat them outside in the fresh air 🙂

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