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Surviving, one bake at a time

I’m going on a bit of a rant – if you’d just like the foodie part of this tale, skip over the section in italics. I won’t mind, really.

It’s been 65 days since the covid-19 pandemic was officially declared. Hubbie and I went into self-isolation then, having already started to prepare for some of the challenges.

We are movie fans; you’d think we would have seen the signs. But then the characters in the movie never see the signs until it’s too late to do anything.

I’m a mostly optimistic person. Our lifestyle was already one that involved trying to be grateful and make the most of moments, so we looked for the positives:

  • Canada is a relatively safe place, with universal health care and plenty of infrastructure
  • We live in a smaller community where there were initially no outbreaks
  • Spring is traditionally slow for our business, so the initial lack of work was manageable

Following the movie analogy though, everyone knows that a Polly Anna story doesn’t sell. And Mother Nature loves that guy Murphy.

You know the rest of the story after this point – it hit the fan. Once we passed into the third month of this with no real end in sight, I decided that I need to regroup. I can’t listen to more news or read more articles or see more memes – I need a chance for my brain to focus on something else, something that involves an accomplishment. A bit of that will refuel me for what comes next.

I am so very thankful one of my passions is something as essential as food. It’s easy to lose myself in the garden or the kitchen.

At Rabbit Hollow we have the garden and the kitchen together in summer!

Spring is the beginning of gardening season – my grubby green thumbs could not be luckier. I have weeded my heart out and transplanted all my seedlings, the first time ever on schedule. But the garden takes months to deliver its bounty.

My real saving grace has been baking. Okay, and working out – ‘cause someone has to eat all those goodies once they come out of the oven 😁

I have to give a shout-out here, to Matthew & Erika and their team at Bread Ahead Bakery in London. I stumbled upon them early in the lockdown and quickly became a “breadaheader”, watching their live Instagram baking tutorials. I learned about sourdough and pastries, got recipes for numerous classics, and found a way to mark my days with the accomplishments of treats to share with my guy, and anyone else whose doorstep was willing.

Sourdough – and amaretti
Sourdough – and cinnamon buns
Sourdough, and chocolate chip cookies (are you getting the theme here?)

It may sound silly that following baking videos kept me sane, but it’s true. The sense of community I feel with food is truly magical. Cooking and eating allows us to experience all our senses, and sharing food is the most basic gesture of gratitude and respect.

What is my point to all this rambling? Honestly, I’m not sure yet. But I do know that food brings people together – even when they have to be apart.

I wish I had the finances to provide meals or even snacks for those less fortunate. All I can manage is to offer smiles to friends and loved ones, and share my passion in hopes it will spark someone else’s fire. At least in sharing we have a sense of camaraderie. If we are all in this together for the pandemic, why not be in something together that offers hope and a smile?

So, I’ll get up tomorrow and decide what I’m cooking (after I work out 😉) Tonight my chef hubby and I filmed our dinner prep on Facebook and it felt good, to wave at friends and share little tips. Life finds a way to persevere.

We will keep going, a few weeks at a time, just like they tell us now. Where will it lead? To the table, for another meal, more sustenance. Each season has its purpose. I have faith that in practicing my skills I will find a way through.

Does it seem logical to anyone else that if Murphy’s Law is consistent, then if anything is going to go right, it will do so at the best possible moment? As Matthew kept saying in all those tutorials, “Practice, practice, practice!”

Busy baking away in my first online cooking class. Boy, were those doughnuts good! 😋

How to get unstuck

I don’t know about you but I feel the need to share rather acutely nowadays. It’s a bit of relief to connect by video call with friends and family and at least see their faces and hear their laughter. But I want to give something, to feel that I am reaching out and that hopefully someone on the other end of the line gets some benefit from my effort.

Sharing recipes has been fun, and learning from other people’s sharing has been cathartic too. I watched Amanda Hesser, one of the founders of Food 52, do an Instagram video making cookies in her home kitchen. She laughed about it being the first time in 4 days that she put a clean shirt on, and I laughed back, looking down at my shirt of more than a couple of days, too.

img_8112I’ve also posted garden pictures, and been cheered by those of others. Spring blossoms always boost my spirits, and knowing the bees are still humming and green shoots are still sprouting is wonderfully reassuring.

I’m going to try a new thing this week. Our group of little Sparks (the tiniest of Girl Guides, aged 5 and 6 years old) will be hosting our first Zoom meeting tomorrow night. It’s only going to be “Show & Tell” this first time – I’m quite sure that 24 littles trying to feature the new project they have at home will be more than enough for one hour! Thank goodness for the mute button.

Along the same lines, I also volunteered to do some story-reading for a kindergarten teacher who wanted “community helpers” to read their favourites so she can show them to her class. My role as a Girl Guide leader is to help kids and offer them another adult perspective, so I figured why not. Selfishly, it gives me a chance to be a big kid and connect at the same time.

Pooh and friends on paradeSo, I’ve made myself a cup of tea and dusted off my Girl Guide vest with the bazillion crests and badges on it (that’s how they know that I am wise old leader, or at least that’s the plan). I shall introduce myself as “Poppy”, my leader name for the last 14 years. Then I’ll launch into my stories.

Dr. Seuss and A.A. Milne would have been friends with my Gramps I think, if he’d  ever run into them. Mulberry Street full version“And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” and “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” sounded like the stories he told about when he was young. I’m hoping my reading will convey the kind of wonder I knew, sitting on his knee listening to his tales of yore.

Even if the kids are not enthralled, perhaps the stories of an imaginative youngster making the most of a boring time and a silly old Bear stuck in a hole will offer them ideas for how to get through this crazy time.

I am so thankful we have many ways to share nowadays. I do still like the in-person method best, but there is a lot to be said for having a back-up plan at times like these.

Me at Disneyworld in Dr Seuss’ world. I have also been to the real Mulberry Street in New York (but all I saw was a cart and horse 😉)

 

P.S. If you’re a big kid like me and love the fanciful stories usually dedicated to the young at heart, here are some classics I love. Feel free to read them, pass them along or read them aloud.

  • “The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles” – Julie Andrews (she also wrote “The Very Fairy Princess” books)
  • “Peter Pan in Scarlet” – Geraldine McCaughrean (didn’t you ever wonder what happened to Peter Pan?)
  • “The Wind in the Willows” – Kenneth Grahame (I read this to my stepdaughter when she was little, and she still remembers it)
  • “Mrs. Frisby & The Rats of NIMH” – Robert C. O’Brien (like “Watership  Down” this isn’t all sunshine and roses, but it’s a wonderful read)
  • “The Cricket in Times Square” – George Selden

 

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 🙂

May Your House and Hearth Be Blessed

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.

housewarming basket

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.

… Comes Around

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.

lemons and olive oil Happy GourmandI 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.strawberry fields

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!)Okanagan peaches Happy Gourmand 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 thereslow soup 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.

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