At the start of a new year we all like to make a fresh start and ensure that we are on the best footing for our new adventures. There are traditions for housewarmings, offering blessings for those in new homes making a new life. It seems to me that doing the same thing for a new year is a good idea, so I thought I would list out some of those traditions for you, based on the sentiments. Many of these stem from the two sides of my heritage (the Scots and the Scandinavians), who gave gifts in the dead of winter to share good spirits and reinforce the community.
GOOD HEALTH – Olive oil represents health and well being, and is a wonderful blessing for the kitchen. Spices also symbolize diversity and excitement in life. A potted plant (especially herbs) symbolize life and energy.
PROSPERITY, ABUNDANCE – Bread symbolizes sustenance and usually goes with the blessing “so your house will never know hunger”. Salt has meant luxury throughout time and can be given with the blessing “that your life will always be full of flavour”.
LOVE, STABILITY – Coins symbolize good fortune; it is said to be important to include a coin in a wallet given as a gift and also with the gift of a knife, so as to ensure your friendship is not cut by the blade.
GOOD CHEER, SWEETNESS & LIGHT – Wine and spirits symbolize good cheer in many cultures which tends to go with joy and prosperity as well. Honey symbolizes the sweetness in life well and a connection with nature. A candle represents the light of life and warmth, especially in dark times.
There are also items that help us keep away the negative things, like bad luck or evil spirits. A broom is a good gift to sweep out any bad omens as well as keeping a house clean.
Homemade items are always a welcome gift, not even requiring wrapping. Sharing your own food (and culinary talents) is a beautiful symbol of friendship and community. Fostering those relationships always brings good things, to the recipient and the giver. If you’re stuck for a recipe, try my Banana Bran Muffins.
this is part 2 of my earlier post, What Goes Around… where I offer a way out of the “food guilt” that we foodies may feel amidst the mass production of a plethora of foods and the slippery slope between following every new trend and being true to your food.
I am a believer in moderation and practicality. For most people, the idea of living within the concept of the 100 mile diet is not something they are willing to do. I know I enjoy lemons and coffee and olive oil too much to say I will swear off eating them. My husband says anything that is called a diet puts him off immediately (chefs don’t like being limited).
I like the concept of Slow Food, that says you support local producers and encourage traditions to continue as part of everyday life in working towards a sustainable food community. That can include supporting the local store that sells organic lemons and fair trade coffee and artisan olive oil, as they are likely the place that also sells local strawberries (instead of the imported ones shipped by the pallet-load) and other seasonal fare.
I also think that education is crucial, and it happens to be another Slow Food pillar. We all need to understand our food – where it comes from, how it grows, what connection it has to our history and our future. If the only way we see food is wrapped in plastic, already portioned, then our education suffers from a lack of information. Children should know that bacon comes from a pig, not a grocery store. When they understand the pigs can live a happy life then maybe they don’t need to think they should be vegetarians because we are cruel to animals. If there is no sharing of traditional celebrations or recipes and their preparation, then our palates suffer from a lack of distinction in flavour. Grandma’s recipes should live for generations, and not just because they were published. Often the secret is in knowing just how to prepare a dish, or season it, so that it has that special something. We all deserve to be thrilled with our own food.
Maybe I did play a part in creating the monster. Now that it has reared its ugly head, though, there seems no reason I can’t be of help in getting a lasso around its neck so we can train it to work with us instead of against us. If sharing my enthusiasm can include the encouragement for others to learn the whole picture and not just the processed one, then perhaps we can reach a happy medium. Everyone deserves to have access to good, clean, fair food – food that tastes good, and is free from unnecessary chemicals, and for which the producer receives a fair price. All these advantages are then passed along to the consumer, who is aware and supports all of these tenets.
I am fortunate enough to live in a region where there are many people connected to the land, and happy to share their enthusiasm and their knowledge. Slow Food is a new organization in our community, but its philosophy is already alive and well here in the Okanagan, and I am proud to be a part of it. There is an orchard down the road from our house that is owned by the same family who planted it one hundred years ago (in the Canadian west that’s a long time!) They sell the fruit at the fruit stand on the corner, and the taste of fruit picked that morning simply does not compare to the same variety packaged in crates and shipped and sold in a major chain store. In season, the fruit stand prices are close and sometimes even cheaper than the stores, but I for one am willing to pay a bit more for the taste of fresh Okanagan sunshine packaged that way. Maybe the extra pennies are like penance for my foodie sins, but I don’t mind – it’s worth every delicious bite!
Do you have a favourite local food or traditional recipe? What is a delicacy where you live or where you come from?? I’d love to hear your comments. If you prefer Facebook, you can join me there too!
If you are interested to learn more about Slow Food, you can check out their fabulous website with many stories. There are convivia (local chapters) in over 150 countries, so I’m sure there are like-minded souls near you. If you live in my neighbourhood, you can follow Slow Food Thompson Okanagan on Facebook.
I’d like to link you to a post I wrote for the Slow Food Canada newsletter, about my time as a delegate at the Salone del Gusto/Terra Madre 2012 – the international conference held every 2 years by Slow Food International. We are hosting the national Canadian conference here in the Thompson Okanagan in April 2013, and our delegate team was so excited by what we experienced that we are preparing a mini-Terra Madre to share the stories of our region.
This is a cause I believe in strongly – food is at the heart of our existence and community is what keeps all of us going as individuals. Having a strong food community means being in touch with what’s on your plate. If you share my passion, feel free to check and see if there is a convivium (local chapter) in your area. If you live in my region and are keen to be involved, you can contact me directly. I’d love to hear your comments on this topic too!
I was fortunate to attend a gathering of people who share a common passion – enjoying food. This may sound like any other dinner party you’ve been to, but imagine if you will a party of about 5,000 people. We didn’t speak the same language, we came from all walks of life and corners of the world, but we could enjoy sharing a taste of food because we all believed that everyone deserves to enjoy good food. We all believed that we are each responsible for taking part in our food community.
The gathering I attended is called Terra Madre. It is a conference organized by the food communities that belong to Slow Food; there are 2000 of them around the world, representing over 100,000 members. It’s a chance to share ideas, learn new information and go back to our communities energized with ways to make a positive change. Not to mention we tasted all kinds of food from around the world!
More than anything, this was about the experience that food can create in our lives. Sometimes the talk was of “edible education” – the importance of teaching children about the pleasure of good food that is sustainable and wholesome. Other sessions discussed keeping traditions alive by sharing the stories of food and maintaining them in the environment and in the culture. Still others delved into the politics of sustainability and hunger. There were panel discussions that offered many points of view but many of my most powerful memories are of conversations I had with other individuals, or interactive experiences. There was effort made to ensure we enjoyed our food, from the way it was prepared to the venue and atmosphere in which we consumed it.
I took part in a bread-making session held by a family that has produced bread in their region for 4 generations. I don’t speak Italian, and the presentation wasn’t offered in English, but I could understand the gist of it. They spoke of their passion to flavour the bread with whole grains, milled fresh, and herbs in season. They spoke of the character of the bread, the sense of place it offered in its taste. They were proud of their work, and happy to share the secret with others. They even sang about it!
I sipped a special drink that was invented in Turin, called a Bicherin, in the cafe where it was first created.
This delectable combination of chocolate and coffee with full cream on top was designed to offer sustenance to those enduring the long church services at the basilica across the piazza. The parishioners would sneak out to the cafe and down a drink so as to be able to make it through the entire service.We lingered and enjoyed a biscotti with our beverage, just like the locals at the next table.
I had a lunch that offered local ingredients prepared by local chefs. There was salami and cheese from local producers, regional wines, a risotto made with a special cheese that has layers of flavour from different batches that are stacked on one another in a pyramid, and a dessert of candied beets and persimmon “pearls” in local ricotta.This meal was experienced in a circus tent, allowing the flavours to unfold at the same time as the story of two young performers who fall in love and celebrate on a rope trapeze, while another is jilted and performs an angst-ridden acrobatic routine in a giant spinning hula hoop. In the background, a gypsy band played mournful accordion and guitar. Art, music, food and wine – this was an integrated experience, to be sure!
If ever I was unsure about the importance of enjoying food and how much it can galvanize relationships and create a sense of community, this trip convinced me. I think that is the secret to teaching people who have not discovered this magic: don’t just feed them, share the food with a smile or a touch or a story. Remind them we are all connected, and the food is one of the most basic ways we stay connected – to each other, to our community, to the planet. Slow Food is about everyone’s right to good, clean and fair food. Access to food is a right, not a privilege, but as aware consumers we must also remember that our part is a commitment to the community and the environment. We must each work to maintain those connections. It’s a job I relish!
To see more photos and experiences from Terra Madre, check out the photo galleries on the Slow Food International website.