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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 🙂

Easter is a wonderful occasion

There is so much about Easter that is beautiful. It is truly a turning point. Spring has sprung and there is new life bounding in the fields with baby animals and new plants. Lent has ended and Easter Sunday is a day of feasting, with chocolate and sweet breads and a groaning table of delicacies, shared with family and friends.

Here at Rabbit Hollow, family is over the mountains and most of our friends are across many miles (some are even on the other side of an ocean). As such, we give thanks for their love and toast their good health and happiness. We always have a feast of our own – this year our homemade “Lamb Jam” and garden beets pickled with star anise were well suited for the succulent lamb chops my hubbie prepared

Cheers to Cedar Creek Winery – their Platinum Malbec was delicious with the tangy plum chutney and beets that accompanied the lamb.

with roasted asparagus and market potato wedges. And then there are the extras…

  • I wanted to do some baking, so bunny cookies were the order of the day. I used Anna Olsen’s cardamom sugar cookies as an inspiration. My tweaked version of her recipe will be added to the archives this week, under Easter Bunny Cookies.

  • we were spoiled by a certain motherly figure who used modern technology to contact our favourite pastry chef, Sandrine. Dessert was the perfect end to the holiday weekend.

The background doesn’t do it justice but the Paris-Brest was divine, and the chocolate mousse cake was perfectly decadent


I have to admit, it was a bit lonely visiting the market by myself this weekend and baking cookies alone in the kitchen; not to mention hunting for chocolate eggs all by my lonesome self (well, except for Ella’s help). However, I am truly grateful to know I have such wonderful friends across the world. Thanks to technology I was able to chat online with many of them, and I hope to see them soon.

I hope you shared love as well as chocolate this weekend. Here’s to a new season, full of sunshine and good feelings.

Even Ella and her new stuffie were popped after a hard day of hunting and baking. There was nothing left to do but bask in the sun…

Edible Chain Letters

recipe exchange old fashioned

There are many traditions of food with friendship. In today’s age of emails and the Internet, it seems that recipes are shared via Pinterest boards and chat rooms more often than by handwritten recipe cards or passed-on magazine articles. Even recipes can go viral though, especially if there is a good story attached. Have you had one of those emails? Not the prince looking for money, the friend who says they are sharing a famous recipe! What foodie could resist such a claim? Not me 🙂

One email chain out there was for the infamous Neiman Marcus cookie: as the story goes a simple oatmeal chocolate chip cookie rose to fame because a woman who ordered the recipe for it after tasting it at a Neiman Marcus department store café was charged $250. As revenge, she sent the recipe to all of her friends. I think this was one of the first e-mails I ever received. This story has been around for a number of years and when I looked into it as an urban legend I discovered variations of it have been floating around for about 50 years, using different recipes and different companies. (There was one published in a cookbook in the 1950’s that told of someone being charged the exorbitant fee of $25 for a fudge cake recipe!) Neiman-Marcus-Chocolate-Chip-CookiesThe attraction of course, is that we get to stick up for the little guy and manage to “stick it to the man” at the same time, not to mention eating cookies. The Neiman Marcus story is not true, by the way. There is a recipe though. If you’re interested, the Neiman Marcus cookie is not all that unique, but feel free to try a batch – you can eat for free nowadays.

 

I felt privileged when a person chose me as one of the friends who would receive this prized recipe. I became part of an inner circle, and then I could share the wealth with other friends too. It’s amazing that food can be a symbol of such status, even just with a recipe.

There is another chain, about a friendship cake. This too, is a long legend. It is a yeast bread recipe that takes 10 days to make, and then a loaf recipe is  made with 1 of the 4 cups of the dough. You keep one cup  of the “starter” aside and then pass along a cup to two friends, with the recipe for the cake. There are many variations on the history of it, but the one I liked the most was in the oft-used name of Amish Friendship Bread (this recipe tells how to make the starter and the loaf, with raisins and cinnamon). Amish friendship breadAn elder and authority on Amish history was asked about the origin of this recipe and she replied that the tradition was simply to share bread or sourdough starter with those less fortunate or sick. It seems the idea of passing it to a friend simply to honour the friendship was just an extension of that gesture.

I know that many people in this day and age don’t have time 10 days in a row to make a sourdough starter. Many people don’t eat certain things so likely they wouldn’t be able to enjoy the cake recipe. But that doesn’t mean we can’t share. The fact that we take the time to send the e-mail says something, doesn’t it? People used to send “care packages” of food by snail mail but you can’t send food through the internet waves. I guess this is just the latest iteration of us trying to still be friends. You can live without friends, but who would want to? One of my favourite childhood authors said it best:

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather is one of those things that give value to survival.
– C. S. Lewis

Whether you use one of these edible chain letters or you just drop by with a bit of something, I think the gesture of sharing something homemade does retain a certain special quality. Friendship is about sharing; it is a necessary ingredient in the recipe of life. (The best part is, your friends will still sit by you, even if what you cook is not that great!)

 

 

 

Have I become a hippie?

nerdy girl velmaWhen I was a kid I was the nerd. You know, the shy girl who would rather read a book than party? As I got older I dreamt of having a job that would allow me to live downtown in a big city and travel the world. I dreaded the work in the garden because it took away from my book reading and movie going. I wanted to be an urban girl. I was always on e fringe though, dressing differently and curious about ideas that were not necessarily popular. My parents were liberal and they worked freelance; I wanted the stability of a “normal” life. .

Well, so much for that. The closest I got to a normal job was working for a big hotel and resort chain, but in hospitality there are no normal schedules. The last big city I lived in was Vancouver and that was 16 years ago. I live on the outskirts of a town next to a vineyard and an orchard, with two garden plots, a little greenhouse and enough flowers to choke a horse. I married a chef, and we talk of the fate of food, not the fashion trends. We are home bodies, not city folks. I’m just as comfy in my tights, a T-shirt and a pair of duck shoes as I am in a flowing dress, but the suits I imagined wearing don’t exist in my wardrobe. Some of my friends say I’m a hippie.

earth day 2012

Is that so bad? I saw an article about the 25th anniversary of Earth Day coming up next week and it made me think of where I was at back then. I was running a bike shop in Calgary and thinking I was being a responsible citizen of the world, until I got to talking to some folks who were really into “getting down with Mother Nature”. I remember feeling like I should do more, I should live with that in mind. I got caught up in everyday life of course and it wasn’t a focused priority in my life for  a while. But I did live in a national park, which made me more aware of our connection to the environment; I also lived in rural Quebec, where people were more concerned with just making a living than saving the whole world. I suppose I gained a better perspective of the bigger picture as I got older. I like to know I am doing my small part in keeping the bees happy with my flowers and reducing my garbage by making compost. I feel good supporting the local farmers and eating real food. Apparently that has made me a hippie. I’m okay with that. I know it makes my mom smile to see her straight-laced daughter become a hippie much like her.

So, in honour of Earth Day, I’d like to share a recipe I got from a friend back in the 90’s. This was long before the advent of coconut oil and grains advertised as GMO free, but there were still people looking to live a pure life. Dave Zen’s Orbit Oatmeal Cookies will make you feel better, I’m sure. Maybe you’ll see things more clearly. Real food can be powerful stuff, you know. Dave Zen cookies

Namaste.

Happy St Nicholas Day

st nicholas Happy Gourmand

In many European countries The Feast of St Nicholas is the start to the holiday season. Do you know, the real St. Nicholas was a Bishop in Turkey in the 4th century, a particularly generous man who was especially devoted to children? His popularity increased to such a point that by the 12th century, he had become a Patron Saint in most European countries and a church holiday was created in his honour, one that became known for gift-giving and charity. The tradition of hanging Christmas stockings was apparently started because St. Nicholas helped out three young ladies whose father had squandered the family fortune after the death of his wife. This prevented the girls from having dowries and being able to marry. St. Nicholas wanted to help them anonymously, as was his custom, and so he rode his white horse to the nobleman’s house and dropped gold coins down the chimney, where they were caught in the stockings hanging by the fire to dry.

Were you aware that mistletoe has been a symbol of winter celebrations since Druid times, before the time of Christ? It was said that ancient Romans would lay down their weapons if they encountered an enemy under a branch of mistletoe. The Celtics believed it had magical powers and could ward off evil spirits, and the Scandinavians included it as a symbol for their goddess of love. It is thought that this link is the beginning of the custom of kissing under the mistletoe. This act is said to give those lucky kissers good fortune in the coming year. (I am proud to be from such sociable roots!)

Here’s another one for you… poinsettias are another giving gesture for the season. Legend says a small Mexican boy heading to the nativity scene in his town realized he had no gift for the baby Jesus. So, he gathered green branches that were by the side of the road. The other children teased him but once the branches were laid in the cradle, red, star-shaped flowers appeared on the end of each branch.

There’s more! Candy canes were invented alongside Christmas trees, but there is a bit of a twist to this story (full pun intended here). Cookies and candies were used to decorate the first Christmas trees, Apparently it was a choirmaster at a cathedral in Cologne who suggested twisting the plain sticks into the shape of a shepherd’s crook. This not only made them easier to hang on the tree, but it also provided a treat for children. It became a custom to hand candy canes out to children at church ceremonies across Europe, to help keep them quiet. And I really can’t resist – I have to tell you that there is another ironic twist to this piece of history: it was another man of the church who automated the process of making candy canes – Catholic priest, Gregory Keller.

I am sure you see the running theme here…that the season seems always to be about sharing with others. Whether you share your wealth, your generosity of spirit or the fruits of your labour, the result is all the same: we are all better for it. So, in case the aforementioned ideas don’t do enough for you, here is my bit of sharing for this week – one of my favourite recipes for Christmas, Shortbread Cookies.  My brother and I used to both help my Mom make and decorate these cookies; great discussions sometimes went into the decorating details. My Mom placed the completed cookies in the oven like they were works created by Michelangelo.

If you don’t have someone to help make these cookies, give some away to friends or colleagues – they are a bit different than the usual shortbread but still melt in your mouth. Decorate them with candied cherries, chocolate chips, sprinkles, coloured sugar, almonds… as inspiration strikes you. If you feel you have overindulged leading up to the holidays and can’t eat them all, then feel free to share!

BROWN SUGAR SHORTBREAD

1 cup Butter

½ cup Brown sugar, firmly packed

½ teaspoon Vanilla extract

2-1/4 cups Flour

½ teaspoon Almond extract (optional)

 

Preheat oven to 325F.

Cream the butter and sugar in a medium bowl until fluffy. Add extract(s) and mix well. Add flour ¼ cup at a time, saving ¼ cup or so for the rolling.

Divide the dough into 4 equal portions. Place one portion on a well-floured surface. Pat it down and turn it over. Roll out to 1/4-1/2 inch thickness. (Do not roll too thin or the cookies will burn; thicker cookies will be even more “melt in your mouth”.) Cut into desired shapes and place on ungreased cookie sheet. (If you have a silicone baking sheet you can still use that on the pan.) Decorate cookies and bake for approximately 12 minutes or until golden. Store in a sealed cookie jar.

 

NOTE: If shortbread is not your thing, check out my blog’s recipe archives for other ideas.

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