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To Mumsy

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Today is my mom’s 70th birthday. This is the lady who first got me cooking in the kitchen and digging in the garden. I am proud to say that she is now enjoying her own adventures, having raised a family and made a career and created beautiful artistic environments in her many homes and gardens. She has travelled through much of Europe now, and the west coast of  America and Mexico. I’d like to go back to particular culinary memory though, that may have started it all.

Many years ago, my brother and I created a dessert for her birthday dinner. We wanted something that represented how elegant and classy we thought she was. It took more than a few magazines and cookbooks to find the right recipe (this is well before the internet, you see). Finally we decided on a Decadent Chocolate Mousse. My dad whisked her away for the day so that we could prepare. It took us many hours and almost every bowl and utensil she had, but we did it. The special glasses were filled with this wonderful concoction and we awaited the time to present dessert to the birthday girl.

My dad had made a lovely dinner, and after the dishes were cleared it was time. With as much pomp and ceremony as we could muster, we carried the glasses to the table and presented the mousse. I think there may have even been a sparkler. She oohed and aahed – we were pleased. So far, so good. Then came the tasting…. she took a bite and tasted, and I could see her thinking. She smiled at us and said it was delicious. Then she took another bite and began to chew. Chewing? Yes… “What are the crunchy bits in it?,” she said. “They’re really good,” she added (the sign of a great mom). I answered with utter confidence: “Oh, those are the coffee grounds. I’m glad you like it!” My dad chuckled. coffee and beans

It wasn’t until much later that it dawned on me – the recipe called for “2 tbsp strong coffee” but they meant brewed coffee, not coffee grounds. Well, I was only 12 years old, I didn’t drink coffee. My dad wasn’t home so my brother and I figured that “strong” meant heaping tablespoons. (Remember, there was no such thing as a Google search back then.) My mother, bless her heart, was not discouraging but rather adventurous even then. She appreciated our efforts and soldiered on to enjoy the dessert. She has said in later years that she really did enjoy it, and in fact has never had a mousse that she remembers as being as good. I love you, Mom.

The recipe we used has long since been lost in the many moves and purges of cooking magazines, but I have found a chocolate moussesuitable replacement which does still include the coffee: Decadent Chocolate Mousse. Both Julia Child and David Lebovitz have apparently used this recipe. Feel free to think outside the box and add something crunchy if you like! I’m going to make it for my mom the next time she comes to visit, as a belated birthday present.

 

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An Afternoon with Santa’s Reindeer

Santas reindeer

I was lucky enough to spend last weekend in Calgary with one of my dearest girlfriends, in honour of my 50th birthday. One of the activities on our radar was to attend the Spruce Meadows International Christmas Market, and it did not disappoint. After all, shopping and sampling goodies amidst children singing holiday tunes is lovely, but how can you beat a sneak peek at Santa’s reindeer?

If you’re like me and you love the hustle and bustle of artisan markets, then Spruce Meadows is a delicious blend of funky, kitschy, homespun and intriguing. There are vendors big and small, with all manner of gift and decor items. Every food vendor offers samples, and the concessions have such delicacies as Hungarian goulash and gluwein, in addition to good old hot dogs and mini donuts. Outside the buildings are toasty warm fire pits where you can snuggle and enjoy your treats, and inside the pavilions are seating areas near performing stages. You’ll need a bit of sustenance to manage the whole fair!

There is something here for everyone, so I encourage you to stroll the aisles and check out what strikes your fancy. The vendors in the stables are particularly charming in their stalls, and that of course, is where you’ll find the reindeer, too. You can even get a posed picture for a fee.

I found some perfect Christmas goodies, and so I’d like to offer a few suggestions from my list of favourites, just to get you started:

In Reindeer Alley (right after the guests of honour)-

  • pet stuff – I loved the funny signs and toys at DOG GONE HEALTHY in Reindeer Alley, but in all fairness there are a number of vendors selling all manner of dog and cat paraphernalia

    Dog Christmas tree

    Dog Gone presents for, and from, the dog!

  • home decor and entertaining accessories – BURGUNDY OAK BARREL DECOR has stylish, well-made wine barrel platters and other accents.

In the Riding Hall-

  • KOOTANA GALLERY – featuring some lovely chimes, crystals and beautiful jewellery that is all about spirit animals, symbols and the energy in stones. You’ll feel good just checking it out!
  • AFRICAN BUTTERFLY hair accessories – these masterful works of art are the best for putting up long hair, whether it’s thick or thin. I bought one years ago and was happy to see Daniel again and get Christmas presents.
  • KATTINAT Swedish dishcloths – ingenious and fun! Look for the colourful designs on these organic cotton cloths that wipe up like nobody’s business! (there were 2 booths carrying these cloths; same price at either one)
  • western style gifts – COWBOY CHRISTMAS has some lovely accessories and fun gift ideas, and the art at RON CHURCH FINE ART & DESIGN is stunning.
  • COZY COTTAGE INTERIORS  brought much of their store inventory to showcase. Great country-style kitsch.

In the Gallery on the Green and outside

  • REAL TREAT cookies – I know, you’ve tasted lots of cookies, what’s the big deal? Try the smoked pecan ones, or the salted caramel shortbread and you’ll get it.

    A "Giggler" puppet!

    A “Giggler” puppet!

  • GIVE A LITTLE GIGGLE puppets – These wonderful people were only at the market for one weekend but check their website to see where else they are, or buy online. A great gift for little or big kids.
  • garden gizmos galore – CREATIVE IRONWORKS has beautiful garden sculptures and furniture; SPRUCE IT UP GARDEN has accents and greens, and RED BARN MERCANTILE has lots of fun Christmas accents and decorations
  • home decor – LITTLE MONKEY METAL WORKS has a striking display of silhouette metal art.

In the Equi-Plex (this is also where the main food concession is – think Hungarian Goulash – as well as many of the performances)

  • BIG BLUE MOMA jewellery and textiles – if you want something handmade and unique, the collection here will do the trick for sure. Jewellery, cushions and table linens all made in Canada with materials made by hard-working entrepreneurs in Ghana. They are one of the delightful booths featuring international wares – be sure to wander this aisle and check out all the unique items.

    Ghanaian fare by Big Blue Moma

    Ghanaian fare by Big Blue Moma

  • TORILL’S TABLE – delectable Norwegian waffles, made from a mix – try a sample!
  • KRUSE’S BAKERY – has stollen, and some delicious-looking cookies. Save some time and enjoy someone else’s baking!

There are 2 more weekends left to enjoy this market in Calgary’s south end. Easy access is available through public transit, and there is a parking shuttle too. You can save $2 per ticket if you buy online through their website. Plan on spending about half the day if you want a good look around; my list is only the tip of the iceberg. If you are there after dark, you’ll get the added benefit of all the lights!

If you’re not in the holiday spirit yet, this is sure to do the trick. Thanks to Spruce Meadows and all their volunteers for putting on such a professional and welcoming holiday event.

Spruce Meadows International Christmas Market

Spruce Meadows International Christmas Market by night

Spruce Meadows Christmas market

lots of room to browse and enjoy at the Spruce Meadows Christmas Market

As Time Goes By

Earl and KPL - dinner in Maui

Eight years ago today my Dad passed away. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him, often wishing that he could be there to share in a special moment. Many of those are foodie moments; my Dad developed a real passion for food as he got older. He went from a meat-and-potatoes Prairie guy to a West Coast cool dude that cooked three course meals and tried all kinds of exotic dishes. When I was a kid the family shared meals and valued time around the dinner table. Once I grew up, my Dad and I would share meals together in all kinds of places, and discussing all kinds of worldly problems.

It is not hard for me to think of food memories, possibly because as a kid I hardly stopped eating. My father used to say I had a hollow leg – I could eat like a horse and I just kept growing taller and eating more. I remember him saying that maybe if he put bricks on my head that would slow things down and it seemed that might be the only remedy. I could have new pants in the spring and be watching for the flood before summer was over!

I don’t want you to get the idea that all we did was eat though… after Sunday breakfast I remember the whole family sometimes having some goofy family time. Music was often playing and it wasn’t just hippie tunes, either. Sorcerers Apprentice broomsI have great visions of all four of us marching through the house to the classical tune, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, just like the brooms Mickey Mouse tried to control. My father would lead us around from room to room like a parade marshal, even going up and over the beds!

These are favourite memories of mine because they make me smile and that in itself makes me proud. I think it is a great testament to the way I was raised that I can look back and say I had such a great time.

This time of year the memories seem to flood in. I eat a fried egg sandwich and I remember the early mornings he got up to make me one before basketball practice. I snack on peanuts in the shell and I am reminded of being little and sharing some of Daddy’s treat as he sat watching a bit of TV, with a paper bag on the floor to catch the shells. I sample a new delicacy and I am taken back to the Friday nights when I lived in Vancouver and we would share an evening of nibbles at “the treetop bistro” in his West End apartment, swapping stories and solving the problems of the world.

All those smiles and tastes far outweigh the sadness I feel, and they remind me of his love of life and sense of adventure. I know he would be proud to see that I am making the most of my experiences. Here’s to you, Daddy – cheers!Earl close up

La Fête du Muguet, or May Day

vintage Pentecost card

vintage Pentecost card from Germany, 1906

I like old-fashioned traditions,and the way they often make us slow down and smell the flowers… sometimes literally. Today is May Day, or Pentecost, when in days of old townspeople might have raised a Maypole and celebrated by decorating it, dancing around it (and of course eating and drinking!) Maypole traditions are said to represent perhaps a sort of pagan worship celebrating Mother Nature and even procreation. In some cultures girls and boys would dance around the pole in opposite directions with ribbons, making an intricate design, supposedly a dance of love. Spring does seem to be a lustful season, after all.

The tradition with which I became endeared was a French one, from my year of living in Nancy. Dating back to 1561 when King Charles IX received a bouquet of Lilies of the Valley as a gift on May 1, this gentle offering has become a country-wide pastime. Families and friends head to the forest early in the morning to pick flowers. When I was in Nancy, I saw roadside stands with little bouquets at the ready, tied with lovely little ribbons. They are given to loved ones, or even to friends and family, as a sign of affection. My mom and I remember this tradition most affectionately, sending greetings to each other wherever we are in the world. She once pestered a number of florists in the Okanagan to find some Lilies of the Valley to send me at my office! I planted some in my garden so I can take a picture every year. This year they have even managed to bloom as of today 🙂

lily-of-the-valley_May Day

May 1 is now also called Labour Day in France, and much of Europe, and it celebrates workers’ rights. I think that follows along nicely; it’s a good thing to show affection for someone’s hard work.

So, Happy May Day! Here’s hoping someone makes you smile today, and that you have time to smell the flowers.

Sunday cooking

Sunday quote

Sunday is our day of rest and often, indulgence. Sunday brunch, full of rich creamy dishes and comfort food – an excuse to jam all the best parts of breakfast and lunch into one occasion, not to mention allowing cocktails and dessert as part of the menu as well, just because, well, it’s Sunday 🙂 Then there’s Sunday dinner: the roast beast and all the trimmings. Granted, most of us are used to having this meal with numerous family members (not always good for the digestion) but a larger group allows for economies of scale in cooking… and it makes for good sandwiches in the coming week! Sunday roastIt often means a few more calories consumed, but we’ll be back at the workouts on Monday, won’t we?

At Rabbit Hollow, we often work Sundays, so the brunch happens whenever we have a day off, which might just as easily be Tuesday. With only the two of us for family close by, we don’t tend to do a large dinner either. But I often take on baking projects if I’m not out in the garden on a Sunday, so I thought I might share some of those favourites during the Spring Break season. With kids home all week, you could even take on these recipes on a weekday!

A fun item to add to any breakfast or brunch is a muffin, and I have a great, healthy (but tasty!) recipe – Banana Bran Muffins. Leftovers are great to take to work with coffee, too.

I made Chocolate Coffee Cake this week. A friend posted a recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens blog, one of their most popular items. I thought why not? Martin, my husband, loves coffee cake. Well, it’s an all-afternoon project with dough that needs rising, but if you don’t mind the start-and-stop, the result is pretty wonderful. He loved it for brunch this morning.

Cookies are always good to have on hand, and fun to share at the office or with friends. One of my faves is a recipe I kind of made up, Tropical Delight Cookies . If you are feeling down about not getting away to a more exotic destination, these might help lift your spirits. This is an easy recipe that the kids can make, too – just in case they are driving you crazy being underfoot at home.

exotic Sunday brunch

If you’re more the savoury type, but you still want to feel that exotic sense of wonder, how about Chicken with Cinnamon & Dates ? It’s a great way to jazz up any night’s dinner.

A tradition that we had when I was growing up was for each of us kids to cook one meal a week. Spring Break is a good time to start that if you haven’t already… Sundays work well, too. Kids can start out chopping veggies or assembling salad, and then as they get older (and taller) they can work their way up to preparing dishes for the oven, or cooking at the stove. Carrots with coriander and caraway is a great first recipe for kids – simple, fast and tasty.

Even something as straight-forward as flavoured popcorn can be a family cooking experience. If Sunday brunch or dinner seems too much, try just getting everyone together for a pick on Netflix and then adding a bit of zip to your popcorn or pretzels or nuts. Spice blends are fun to play with – you can try the ones in your cupboard (cajun popcorn or pretzels? smoked salt on toasted almonds?) by just adding a drizzle of butter or olive oil. Toasting nuts a bit first really brings out their flavour – about 5 minutes at 400F will usually do it. If you don’t have any mixes, think of flavours you like – spicy hot? herbs? (rosemary popcorn is fun). Cheese is a fun addition too – the powdered parmesan you get works great (look for real cheese, not the processed stuff in a can). You can mix it with other flavours or just add it on by itself.

Any effort you make in the kitchen is worth some quality time – it might just be a moment with a cookie and a glass of milk or a cup of tea, but especially if you can share that moment with a friend you have a chance to connect and catch up. In our busy world, that’s worth a few calories any day, if you ask me.

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