There are many reasons I count my lucky stars. Just living in this part of the world is a huge blessing, and the Okanagan in particular is a special spot for someone who is a foodie and a wine geek. But most of all, I’m spoiled by my hubbie.
Some people call it luck. Others call it fate. Whatever label you want to attach to the concept, when you find your soulmate, your live your life on a higher level. Quality time becomes precious time, not because it is rare but because it is special. Soulmates share passions, and so every moment shared holds special meaning. For us, the passion we share is food so every meal we have is a memory.
Contrary to popular belief, a chef and a sommelier don’t always eat lobster risotto and drink vintage French wine. Sometimes we have grilled cheese sandwiches, or salad, for dinner. Breakfast is often yogurt with fruit, and a protein shake. But when we decide to “dine”, we do it right. Yesterday was one of those days.
For breakfast, we had shakshouka. “What?”you say! I know. The only reason I know the same is because it’s trendy and I read about it – we call it eggs poached in tomato sauce.
My hubbie made the tomato sauce with a blend of sautéed and roasted veggies (artichokes, onions, mushrooms, broccoli, and squash). He warmed the sauce up in the oven, using our spiffy boats that we bought for just such a meal. Then he cracked the eggs into the dishes and put them back in for another ten minutes or so. A bit of grated cheese went on top, and back in they went for a couple of minutes (we had Parmigiano Reggiano but any cheese you like will work). The rest of the cooking happened on the plate as I got toast and coffee ready. (I have a nifty milk steamer that he bought me so I can make lattes at home just the way I like them.)
And voilà. What could have been an ordinary day started off with a special moment shared.
We spent the day in the yard, spring cleaning. Each of us has our own responsibilities, so we mostly work alone outside. I prepped the greenhouse for early plants, and did some cleaning in the flower beds. Hubbie was busy being manly, chopping fruit wood that will be used for BBQ cooking this summer. We worked until cocktail hour. (What can I say, we work hard and live hard.)
As I made cocktails after cleaning up and feeding the dogs, hubbie prepared dinner. I had picked up a piece of fresh halibut at our local fishmonger, since the season just opened. He put a bit of a citrus spice rub on it, and prepared a Caesar salad to accompany it, with radishes instead of croutons for crunch (how’s that, gluten-free readers?)
Since I am his muse, I prepared just a bit of sauce: diced pieces of preserved lemon in a sweet wine reduction. (It might sound weird, but the sweet and salty elements were a nice foil for the richness of the fish.) I chose a new local wine from a winery I like that has a sassy image but great quality wine. If you have access to wines from BC, check out The Hatch.
Simple flavours, true to their character. (They say one way to test a chef is to have them make a Caesar salad. My guy could stand shoulder to shoulder with anyone in any kitchen.)
It wasn’t a day celebrating anything special except another day together. But that’s how we live. Fridays are just as worthy of celebrating as anniversaries. I highly recommend it.
In a world where things move at 4G (or is it 5G now, I can’t remember) and there is a lot of non-stop noise, it’s nice to enjoy a slow and quiet moment. One of my favourite reasons for walking the dog is to have those kind of moments. Another way I take a deep breath is to spend time in my garden. The first method I discovered for stepping back from the fray was reading.
Today I stopped at the local Chapters to stock up on reading material. I do have books at home, but I was looking for inspiration, new information to broaden my horizons. I also have to manage my time and focus on priorities. I don’t know about you, but if I have a good book I have been known to disappear inside it for lengths of time. I can only allow shorter intervals right now, so having something that was of shorter duration was more practical. A few food magazines was just enough to do the trick.
Just buying the magazines put me in a state of euphoria. Choosing publications that offered something unique was important; I don’t need to read about 15 different variations on brownies or omelettes. I wanted something outside the box.
Scooping up the last few issues of Lucky Peach was important; if you haven’t heard of this periodical yet, unfortunately it’s almost too late. The offbeat and ingenious effort from Momofuku’s David Chang and Peter Meehan will be shutting down later this year. (I invite you to at least check out their website for brilliantly written pieces.)
I am a fan of foodie travel, and my current favourite on that front is Saveur. There used to be a similar magazine called Intermezzo which I loved, but I can’t find it anymore. (You have to roll with the punches.) I have learned of cuisines in faraway places, and ingredients I never knew existed. I have added places to my bucket list and filled my kitchen with aromas that had me transported across the world.
As a treat, I picked up a special edition on California wine, as we are travelling there in the fall. Not only will I have some new pairing ideas, I might find a few pit stops. After all, travelling is thirsty work.
Hiding in the back shelves was a title I hadn’t seen before, so I splurged and picked it up too. I love to know how things work and Milk Street is all about the how’s and why’s of a dish. It’s a new publication; I’ll let you know how I like it.
I suppose you could call this literary gluttony a guilty pleasure. There are many websites with foodie information, and articles galore on every topic imaginable. But there is something comforting in putting my feet up and flipping those glossy pages, pondering the delectable food photos as I sip my tea. I consider this akin to meditation, a time for my mind to wander at leisure with no agenda. As much as my workouts are important to stay in shape and my recipe testing helps with my writing, a bit of mental free time helps me find my ways to new ideas. Sometimes, like a walk with Ella where I let her decide the route, my mind will wander down its own path and find a solution to a challenge that doesn’t even involve food.
I read an article today about Paula Wolfert, a renowned cookbook author and icon in the world of food and restaurants. She has Alzheimer’s disease, and so not only does she not remember how to cook many recipes anymore – she also has lost much of her sense of taste. And yet, she is still working with food and with people who want to learn from her. (I can’t wait to read the biography of her that is coming out soon. If you’d like to read the article, it’s on my Facebook page. )
Reading Ms. Wolfert’s story reminded me that every moment counts. Even with a life rich in memories, we need to make every effort to live our best life in every moment. There is a zen saying:
Quiet the mind and the soul will speak.
I’d like my soul’s vocabulary to improve.
I know I won’t have much sympathy when I finish this post by telling you I’m leaving on holidays in 2 days, but bear with me… I was thinking of friends we have made in past years on trips to Jamaica, and missing the trip we usually take there at this time of year. I decided to make something tonight in hommage to our love of the place, its wonderful food and people, and our distant friends.
I don’t know if you have ever done this – revisit tastes from a great experience? You can’t expect to recreate magic that comes from being in a place, but it’s fun to remember and toast to a time when you lived life to the fullest. I love to share tastes with friends and family, too; it helps to round out tales you want to tell of your visit and put them in context even for those who weren’t there.
Tonight’s little appetizer was easy. FRIED PLANTAINS: take a few plantains and peel them like bananas. Slice them diagonally and toss in a mixture of thyme, allspice, salt and marjoram (oregano will sub in if you don’t have any). Pan fry in a cast iron pan with a generous amount of coconut oil till golden brown. Serve with Jamaican condiments such as tamarind chutney, jerk sauce or other spicy chutneys. This time it was just for the two of us, but I’ve done it for larger crowds and we’ve had just as much fun. Light beer or rum punch are perfect accompaniments, but a lighter white wine will work in a pinch.
If you have a chance to be a guest at such an occasion, perhaps it will inspire you to take a voyage. Or it will give you a real taste of the place, a chance to be an armchair traveller. There is no safer way to travel, yet the excitement can still be worthy of wanting to send a postcard or two.
I grew up on the Prairies, and my parents both came from families that had been on the Prairies for generations. I believe that part of my heritage links me to an innate sense of country living. Not only existing in small towns where the community is smaller and more intimate, but also coming from an environment that was more harsh and unforgiving than bountiful. Not to mention that I grew up with relatives who had living memories of the Depression, wartime and rations. As a result, I am always conscious of waste, and thinking of ways to avoid it.
Today my kitchen project was simple: making sweet potato chips for “the troops”, our two dogs. Both Simon and Ella enjoy treats just as we do, but junk food is no better for them than it is for us. A crunchy sweet potato chip is a nice way for them to have something without any processing except dehydration. (Seven hours at 130F works perfectly. ) There is no mess ; Simon sometimes leaves a few crumbs, but Ella is a master at clean-up, being a Labrador. The only catch is that the ends of the potatoes are too small to use for chips, due to the tapered shape. We do have a compost, but why not use the ends in another way?
I had an epiphany one day while making the chips and thinking of what to put in our salad for dinner. How about roasting pieces of sweet potato and adding them to the salad? It worked like a charm. I put the pieces on a baking sheet with some olive oil and herbs & spices (whatever strikes my fancy that day).About 20 minutes in a moderate oven and presto! We can just as easily leave them in the fridge for another meal if need be. At least all that food isn’t wasted.
I suppose you could say this is another way to look at the concept of “nose to tail” cooking, in the vegetable world. I’m proud that I have kept something out of the compost – yay me! Somehow the lack of guilt I feel makes the salad taste better.
I have really had a hard time this winter. First the snow and cold were late in coming, then they came with a vengeance. Days on end went by with more than frigid temperatures and grey skies. And now, in just the last two days, we have gone from deep snow and cold winds to warm breezes and a swampy slushy mess. I was in snowshoes on Wednesday and today I had to wear gumboots, but the snow was still deep enough to slosh over top and soak my socks.
In case you haven’t guessed already, the current weather quite fouled my mood. Cold is hard for those of us who like to be warm, but one can dress for it. Grey skies are often seen as gloomy, but their pervasive nature can be overcome by more cheery activities. Where we live, there are no sidewalks but rather fields and orchards, so my daily walk with the dog is a more rustic endeavour. When we get to this time of year it becomes a swampy slushy morass, and then with a bit more melting it is a mud bog. It smells a bit of composting leaves and of course mud. Walking through it is frustrating at best, since it’s a case of two steps forward and one slippery step back. Imagine walking through a field halfway to one’s knees.
I guess the universe must have heard my cries of dismay. I received an article by email today that raised my spirits and even made me giggle. Here I was bemoaning the slush, and what should I get but instructions on how to cook with it – ingenious!
Thanks to the wonderful folks at Epicurious for saving the day, and my sense of humour. I hope you enjoy these ideas as much as I have.