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You deserve a break

I’m the sort of person that is always curious about how things started, or who had the original idea for an iconic symbol or trend. One pastime that interests me in particular is our coffee culture, and why a simple beverage has become a ritual for us, an intrinsic part of our everyday life. Even people who don’t partake of the stuff know the steps in the ritual, and the places that support such rites are rife with adaptations for these non-believers (iced tea, fruit smoothies, flavoured water… all with multiple variations so you can order it your way like your coffee-loving companions). Taking a break is an important part of life, especially in an age where everything moves at supersonic speeds. Interestingly enough, the break seems to inspire many of us to greater heights. In case you needed to feel more justified in having your cup of joe, read on.

Did you know that the discovery of coffee apparently gets credited to an Ethiopian shepherd who lost his sheep and later found them dancing around a red cherry bush? The bush was a coffee plant, and when he tried the red cherries (unroasted coffee beans) he began to dance around the bush too. He told the story to monks and they told him they make a drink from the beans. As you can see, celebration was obviously an early part of the coffee ritual.

The first coffee shop opened in Constantinople in 1475, and in those days coffee was so important to the people that a woman could legally divorce her husband if he did not provide her with her daily quota of coffee. (Now doesn’t that make an interesting Timmy’s commercial!) When Pope Clemente VIII was asked to place a ban on coffee drinking, he refused, saying, “This beverage is so delicious it would be a sin to let only misbelievers drink it!”

There is much research and documentation to prove the relationship coffee has had to the development of our culture. Bach wrote a Coffee Cantata. Many a politician and literary personality developed their craft in coffee houses around the world. The Boston Tea Party made drinking coffee a very patriotic thing to do in the new United States. London And of course, we might not have had Harry Potter and the world of Hogwarts if J.K. Rowling hadn’t found a cozy neighbourhood coffee shop in which to write. London actually had coffee houses before Paris, but the French caught up quickly. One of their first coffee houses is said to be the birthplace of the first modern encyclopedia, being a popular hang-out for fellows such as Voltaire and Rousseau. You can consider yourself in good company the next time you sit and sip your grande non-fat latte.

Nowadays, people are more concerned with the environment and so “fair trade” coffee is more common. Smaller producers are supposed to have more of a chance at competing in the international market with working cooperatives that can compete on a larger scale. The paperwork to belong to a fair trade network can be costly and so sometimes larger producers can still get ahead faster, but the consumer support for the “little guys” has added pressure to produce results. The social impact of coffee shops continues on, having started centuries ago with discussion by artists and then Beat poets and musicians.

Whichever way you like your coffee, enjoy the time away from the hustle and bustle as you sip. Maybe you’ll be inspired to rally for a cause, or invent some new story or widget amidst the steam and the aromas of those artisan-roasted beans. If you’d like to comment on your favourite brew or place to go, please visit my Happy Gourmand Facebook page and join the conversation! If you need a cookie to go with your coffee, try out this old favourite I just posted in my Recipe Archives.

Sharing something special

Do you have recipes that are family secrets? Is there some “secret sauce” or “Aunt Mabel’s noodle casserole” that you are sworn not to share?? In today’s world of the Internet and cookbooks at Costco and chefs on Twitter, how could there be any secrets left, I wonder… I would love to know your feedback on this.

The closest thing I have to a secret recipe is one I was given by a charming English lady at a bed and breakfast in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia. It is for traditional English marmalade, and I wanted it to preserve the memory of the full English breakfast she served my companion and I on our cycling holiday along the south coast. I have made it every year since, and I cherish every spoonful.

Mahone Bay, a picture-perfect town south of Halifax, Nova Scotia

It could be said that keeping this recipe close to my heart doesn’t matter much, as I have found that many people don’t even like marmalade.Certainly a recipe that takes 3 days is a harder sell.

day 2 - separating the pips, pulp and peel, then chopping the peel finely. Sticky work!

But I like the idea of having something special that I can share with those special people. My Aunt Myrna makes marmalade on the Sunshine Coast, along with her many other efforts to preserve and share from her kitchen. My Mom makes it, too – most often when she hasn’t been able to visit me, as I am happy to share. (I can’t eat 10 jars a year.) And every once in a while I run into another avid fan and I get to share a bit of sunshine in a jar with them and know they will smile over their next piece of toast.

This year's harvest - the big jar stays in my fridge!

They say that many cultures are unified by the traditions of food, even when other elements like religion or politics can divide them. No wonder we use the word “comfort” when we speak of food; it is not only sustenance for our physical system, but emotional sustenance as well. (Anyone who got their heart broken and consumed a tub of Haagen Daz in one sitting can attest to that!) Perhaps the traditions surrounding food are part of what keep any secrets or special ingredients a part of family and cultural history.

Do you have favourite foods that you can only get in one place? Are there secret recipes or ingredients that you use? Please share your opinions and comments!

By the way, I am happy to trade secrets, if you happen to be a marmalade fan 🙂

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