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The Taste of Memories

Today would have been my Dad’s 74th birthday. He passed away almost 10 years ago, but every year on his birthday especially, my thoughts are of him. He and I were close, and some of my favourite quirky food memories are of times with him. So it seemed only fitting that today’s entry would be in his honour…

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When I was a kid, my diet started out with rather small parameters. My mom says I used to eat mostly fruit as a baby, and that sausages were one of the first – and only – proteins I liked. I did get over that picky stage, but we were a Prairie family and my dad was a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy back in those days. My mom cooked what he liked. Pork chops and applesauce, or meatloaf with mashed potatoes and turnips were regular stand-bys. My dad’s contribution was the traditional grilling component: he did cook a mean steak, and he mastered vegetables in a tinfoil package with butter and herbs, steamed over the coals. (I still love doing these with steaks in the summer.)

I was a baker long before I was a cook, but my dad never had much of a sweet tooth. He loved a good cookie (not too crunchy, of course – we agreed on that) In true Prairie fashion he also loved apple pie, with a slice of cheddar cheese. But his favourite dessert was jelly roll.

When I was a teenager, my parents took a trip to California. After that, food changed. All of a sudden we were having nachos with salsa, and eating more fish. Then the stuffing for the turkey at Christmas had nuts, and there was no going back. By the time I was an adult, my mom could cook anything and he would try it. My dad had started to cook and even bought cookbooks. He made salads with dried cranberries and toasted pecans, veal piccata, ice cream sundaes.

My favourite foodie memories with my dad are in the years when I was first married, and we both lived in Vancouver. My hubbie was working some nights and so Daddy and I had a standing date on Friday for appies and drinks. We would while away the evening over tidbits he had made and wine I had brought. Our conversations ranged from trivial tidbits to solving the problems of the world. I would often bring dessert, as I was working at Senses, a gourmet food store and bakery that featured the treasures of Thomas Haas. My dad finally gave up jelly roll as his favourite dessert, replacing it with Thomas’ Stilton Cheesecake with Rhubarb Compotethomas-haas-stilton-cheesecake

In later years, we didn’t get to share many meals between the miles and my dad’s ill health. I am very grateful we shared so many memories for me to enjoy. Every time I taste jelly roll, or salad with dried cranberries and toasted pecans, I think of him. When I taste something new and exotic, I smile and think of how he would have enjoyed it.

I’m also due for a piece of Stilton cheesecake on my next visit to Vancouver. Just for old time’s sake.

 

 

To Mumsy

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Today is my mom’s 70th birthday. This is the lady who first got me cooking in the kitchen and digging in the garden. I am proud to say that she is now enjoying her own adventures, having raised a family and made a career and created beautiful artistic environments in her many homes and gardens. She has travelled through much of Europe now, and the west coast of  America and Mexico. I’d like to go back to particular culinary memory though, that may have started it all.

Many years ago, my brother and I created a dessert for her birthday dinner. We wanted something that represented how elegant and classy we thought she was. It took more than a few magazines and cookbooks to find the right recipe (this is well before the internet, you see). Finally we decided on a Decadent Chocolate Mousse. My dad whisked her away for the day so that we could prepare. It took us many hours and almost every bowl and utensil she had, but we did it. The special glasses were filled with this wonderful concoction and we awaited the time to present dessert to the birthday girl.

My dad had made a lovely dinner, and after the dishes were cleared it was time. With as much pomp and ceremony as we could muster, we carried the glasses to the table and presented the mousse. I think there may have even been a sparkler. She oohed and aahed – we were pleased. So far, so good. Then came the tasting…. she took a bite and tasted, and I could see her thinking. She smiled at us and said it was delicious. Then she took another bite and began to chew. Chewing? Yes… “What are the crunchy bits in it?,” she said. “They’re really good,” she added (the sign of a great mom). I answered with utter confidence: “Oh, those are the coffee grounds. I’m glad you like it!” My dad chuckled. coffee and beans

It wasn’t until much later that it dawned on me – the recipe called for “2 tbsp strong coffee” but they meant brewed coffee, not coffee grounds. Well, I was only 12 years old, I didn’t drink coffee. My dad wasn’t home so my brother and I figured that “strong” meant heaping tablespoons. (Remember, there was no such thing as a Google search back then.) My mother, bless her heart, was not discouraging but rather adventurous even then. She appreciated our efforts and soldiered on to enjoy the dessert. She has said in later years that she really did enjoy it, and in fact has never had a mousse that she remembers as being as good. I love you, Mom.

The recipe we used has long since been lost in the many moves and purges of cooking magazines, but I have found a chocolate moussesuitable replacement which does still include the coffee: Decadent Chocolate Mousse. Both Julia Child and David Lebovitz have apparently used this recipe. Feel free to think outside the box and add something crunchy if you like! I’m going to make it for my mom the next time she comes to visit, as a belated birthday present.

 

Happy Birthday to me!

I wrote this in the movie theatre while waiting for my popcorn on my birthday a few days ago. There was no wifi to get it to post. I hope you will still enjoy the sentiment 🙂

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Today is my birthday. I enjoy birthdays and in some years I have made a big deal about birthday meals. When I was a kid the cake was always important of course and I was lucky enough that my Mom was at home and liked baking. She made angel food, chocolate fudge, and any other whim I came up with. She wrapped nickels inside Saran Wrap and made sure there was one for every piece, for every kid. A few times we went out or restaurants and then there were always sparklers and singing and much fanfare.

Once I got older I did my own thing. I once made a checkerboard chocolate and orange cake I saw in a food magazine. It took half the day to cut out the checkerboard pieces of sponge and then put in the filling but it did taste amazing.
I’ve never had a surprise birthday party but my husband has surprised me with beautiful birthday treats. His chocolate Baileys ganache cake is one of the reasons I married him 😉
We celebrate lots of occasions together; our life is full of fun. Like Tuesdays for example. They have been our date nights since before we were married. We go to a movie almost every Tuesday. Many of our inside jokes are linked to some of our screen favourites. So this year having a birthday on a Tuesday is just about perfect. I get to be spoiled, and have quality time with my guy while having popcorn. Maybe he’ll surprise me with a piece of birthday cake when we get home 🙂

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Many Happy Returns to a best friend

It’s birthday season in my world it seems. I just wrote a post remembering my Dad’s birthday. Now I have another day of note worth mentioning, so I hope you’ll indulge me, and my loved ones.

Today is Simon’s birthday. He is 10 years old today. Everyone deserves to be celebrated on their birthday, even someone as egocentric as Simon. You see, Simon is my husband’s German Short Haired Pointer.He is a well-trained and handsome dog, but he loves me for my throwing arm. ImageSo, any tribute I make in this article is directed much more towards MY best friend, Ella, the Chocolate Labrador you see gracing my photos in this blog. She is the one who nurses me through my sinus infections in winter, and watches over me when I garden in the summer, and always looks back when we walk to make sure I am still there. (Simon, on the other hand, could care less till it’s dinner time where I am.)

In honour of all four-legged best friends, I am contributing a recipe for healthy dog treats to my archives. You can just feed your dog popcorn as a natural treat, or slow roasted sweet potato slices (cook them in the oven at 200F, or a dehydrator, for about 6 hours). This is a fun recipe to do with kids, and it gives them great practice at kitchen skills. It’s also a great gift to give a fellow dog owner. I once even hosted a canine birthday party at the local park where we walked our dogs, and gave out homemade dog treats as a take-away. Dog owners tend to be really sociable people; it was a fun party!

Of course, if you’re not a dog owner, your best friend would likely enjoy a more decadent birthday treat. For this kind of celebration, I suggest chocolate. One of my favourite special desserts is my husband’s Chocolate Souffle. ImageIf your friends are more into simple fare that is not so decadent, how about Pavlova? It’s even gluten-free, for those who don’t eat wheat.

Whether your friends are two-legged or four, you could hold a party with just balloons and still elicit many smiles. But I am a firm believer that birthdays deserve a cherry on top, if you know what I mean. Gathering people together to share a taste of something special makes for a great memory.

Here’s to doing back flips for birthdays!

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Birthdays are for celebrating

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Today would have been my Dad’s 70th birthday. He is gone now, but if he was around I think he would have hoped to have a big celebration for what he called the start of his New Year. Birthday parties were a big deal when I was a kid, and my parents did a bang-up job of creating wonderful celebrations.

One year, I remember we had a party for my little brother in our rec room, which was the funky space downstairs with a mural wall that included the family dog, a huge tree in the corner with Impressionist leaves, and a giant flower. We didn’t play any mundane games like Pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey at the Peturson house… we played “Pin the bee on the flower”. Can you tell my parents were hippies? pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey

When my brother and I got older, the family went for dinner at a restaurant to celebrate. I don’t mean White Spot or Swiss Chalet; we went to places that served savoury crepes or Spanish paella and caesar salad made at the table. My parents enjoyed wine, and we got to try things like mussels or lamb. Talk about feeling spoiled on your special day!

Years later, my Dad and I enjoyed a fabulous vacation in Maui, and food was one of our favourite memories from that trip.

we stayed at the Fairmont Kea Lani, where the view at dinner was spectacular

we stayed at the Fairmont Kea Lani, where the view at dinner was spectacular

We had our server prepare crepes at the table for us, and he was brilliant in his presentation. He decorated my crepe so that it had chocolate sauce wings with fruit coulis patterns and whip cream “fuzz” over the crepe body. Then he prepared my Dad’s crepe with more mottled colours, and for the piece de resistance, threw the spoonful of whipped cream on the plate and said, “Oh darn, your bug hit a windshield.” My Dad laughed till tears rolled down his cheeks. We talked about that dinner till the day he died.

Interestingly enough, though, my Dad did like comfort food even after years of expanding his food horizons beyond the meat and potatoes of his prairie childhood. His favourite dessert was jelly roll, and it was one of the first desserts I learned to make, in his honour. Earl birthday jelly roll It was one of my first real accomplishments in life, to flip that pan and then roll that sponge with the filling inside with enough confidence not to blow it 🙂

So, here’s to you Daddy. Thanks for all the great memories, and for reminding me that birthdays deserve to be celebrated in grand style.

Earl and KPL - dinner in Maui

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