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The Staff of Life

 

I love bread. I find it satisfying, intimidating, humble and rewarding, all at the same time. As a young person cooking, bread was a daunting chapter in any cookbook. It was not until recently that I screwed up the courage to take on that food central to survival for so long; the staff of life.

In my teen cooking years, I was thrilled to discover I could veer onto the side road known as “Quick Breads”, and worked up my confidence with Soda Bread, Zucchini Bread, Baking Powder Biscuits and cornmeal muffins.

One of my childhood friends was German, and her mom did a lot of hearty baking. She had an old family recipe for bread rolls that she made once a month. If the universe was smiling on me, I would happen to be stopping at my friend’s house after school, and we would be allowed to have a warm bun with butter. It was my first taste of Nirvana.

buns with butter

I have been working with my sourdough starter for a year and a half now, and I am still humbled every time I make a loaf. Just when I think I am the master, the starter behaves differently or the weather changes or the flour combination seems not work as well… it’s all edible, but I am far from the works of art I see on Instagram and in my cooking magazines. Those elusive bubbles and the intricate scoring patterns are like a foreign language – one in which I have only learned a few greetings and a few cuss words, like any other novice.

Yesterday, though, I think I got back to the heart of the matter. I made a recipe that I turned into a sort of pull-apart loaf and some rolls, and it was divine. It was an enriched yeast dough that I just happened to add some starter into, so it was truly a mish-mash of ingredients and techniques. But never mind, it worked. It tasted good. Even my chef hubbie said so!

I think perhaps that my interpretation of bread being “the staff of life” involves a more complex sort of survival than just sustenance. The shared experience of breaking bread is truly part of the magic for me. The love shared for the meal is also something I crave. (Like they say, we cannot live by bread alone.)

So I’m rejuvenated for another day, another effort, another bake. Leaving more crumbs, in case there is someone else out there, struggling along the same road. I posted my Kindred Spirit Milk Rolls, as a record of my progress and a message for those souls who want a taste of the magic.

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A Tisket, A Tasket, A Biscuit in a Basket

I know, I’m sorry – I didn’t post anything all weekend, not even on Monday. In my defense, I was busy being a gourmand – in the garden planting and pruning during the day and at a table enjoying food and drink with friends at night. There simply was no time left to catalog it all. But I took pictures, so here I am catching up.

We love brunch. Everything about this blended meal appeals to us, and so we work it into our schedule whenever we can. Since we work on many Sundays, it’s a particularly joyous treat when we do get the time to lounge over all the flavours. Brunch is a foodie’s meal.

Brunch was invented by an Englishman in the late 19th century. Believe it or not, Guy Beringer first publicized the idea in an essay defending the case for weary social butterflies suffering from a successful Saturday party. A traditional English breakfast which started with heavy meat pies and other rich proteins was too drastic, so brunch allowed people to ease into a meal, and the day. The idea was to start with “tea pastries”, and perhaps even have a bit of hair of the dog with a cocktail. If brunch was a real thing, he proposed, people wouldn’t be judged harshly for proceeding this way. Interestingly, the concept didn’t catch on in North America for more than thirty years.

Even when we do have a big work day ahead, we have been known to salvage a component of a brunch meal to raise our spirits. Even without a Caesar or a glass of bubbly, a bit of brunch works wonders to make me feel spoiled even on a work day.

Last weekend was hectic with yard projects and deck building so there was no time to waste. Saturday we went all out, and Sunday we dragged our tired selves out of bed to get back at it. My hubbie decided we deserved a treat and so he whipped up some biscuits with the first of the fresh herbs in the back garden. Thanks to Ina Garten’s fantastic biscuit recipe and some of our chili grape jelly, I got to feel spoiled if only for a mere half hour.

Pulling a warm biscuit out of the basket was a highlight of my day.


I might not have had a hangover on Sunday morning but my sore muscles were grateful for the chance to ease into the day. Mr. Beringer was so right:

“Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting. It is talk-compelling,” Beringer wrote. “It makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings.”

 

Simple Pasta – or is it?

Pasta is one of the great simple dinners. I’m not saying it can’t be a great meal but the part I love about pasta dishes is that their true beauty is sublime. Often the most spectacular plates are made from only a few ingredients.

Living with a chef in the house I often have sauces leftover, and pasta makes a great vehicle to carry sauce in a new way. Our latest favourite is to use a mixture of goat cheese with herbs that is made for filling mushroom caps. Stirred in at the last minute with sautéed veggies, it makes a tangy and filling dinner that is reasonably healthy and is done in less than 20 minutes. What’s not to like about that?

They say that Marco Polo was the one that brought pasta to Italy from his travels in Asia, but history shows that various places in Italy already had pasta as a common food in the 13th century when Marco Polo was travelling. (Whoever “they” are, they’re wrong.) Many other countries have similar foods that offer a hearty meal from a sort of boiled dough; spaetzle and orzo,as well as various dumplings like perogies use the same ingredients – flour and water, sometimes with eggs. This is a food of the people, a staple for the working class.

Maybe that’s why so many people love pasta – it’s not intimidating. You can drill down to the details and cook it just right, add just-picked herbs and quality oils, grate masterfully aged Parmigiano Reggiano. But you can also open the box and stir in that glow-in-the-dark powder and still have dinner.

Nello, in New York City, serves white truffle pasta in season. It’s not on the menu, so be prepared to pay the going price.

I wasn’t surprised when I saw an article today on a restaurant in New York serving the most expensive pasta in the U.S. Americans do love superlatives, and there are expensive and rare ingredients that work wonderfully well on a simple canvas like pasta. White truffles, which are in season at the moment, sell for hundreds of dollars an ounce, so when you shave one over pasta sautéed in butter, it can cost a lot. (The current price is apparently $275. If you visit the restaurant in the fall when black truffles are in season, it’s a bargain at about half the price.)

Any way you want to serve it up, pasta is a great way to start the week. I feel better having had some. It could be one of the world’s oldest comfort foods.

Here’s to a great rest of the week.

What is healthy food?

It’s the New Year. We’ve all made resolutions and many of them will be about food. Eating healthy is a topic that you see in the news, on the internet and even in restaurants. But what does eating healthy mean? Are we all marching to the same drummer on that idea? I would love to know your thoughts on this, because I must admit, I find it confusing…

I have often shaken my head about all the kinds of diets you can follow now; not only are there vegetarians, vegans, fruitarians, paleo and South Beach and Atkins people but then there are diet plans and supplements as well. Do you have to be on a diet to be healthy? Or does dieting mean that you are NOT healthy?

I started thinking about this blog post when I saw a post on Facebook from someone I follow.

butter

“Pass The Butter … Please. This is interesting . .. . Margarine was originally manufactured to fatten turkeys. When it killed the turkeys, the people who had put all the money into the research wanted a payback so they put their heads together to figure out what to do with this product to get their money back. It was a white substance with no food appeal so they added the yellow colouring and sold it to people to use in place of butter. How do you like it? They have come out with some clever new flavourings…. DO YOU KNOW.. The difference between margarine and butter? Both have the same amount of calories. Butter is slightly higher in saturated fats at 8 grams; compared to 5 grams for margarine. Eating margarine can increase heart disease in women by 53% over eating the same amount of butter, according to a recent Harvard Medical Study. Eating butter increases the absorption of many other nutrients in other foods. Butter has many nutritional benefits where margarine has a few and only because they are added! Butter tastes much better than margarine and it can enhance the flavours of other foods. Butter has been around for centuries where margarine has been around for less than 100 years . And now, for Margarine.. Very High in Trans fatty acids. Triples risk of coronary heart disease … Increases total cholesterol and LDL (this is the bad cholesterol) and lowers HDL cholesterol, (the good cholesterol) Increases the risk of cancers up to five times.. Lowers quality of breast milk Decreases immune response. Decreases insulin response. And here’s the most disturbing fact… HERE IS THE PART THAT IS VERY INTERESTING! Margarine is but ONE MOLECULE away from being PLASTIC… and shares 27 ingredients with PAINT. These facts alone were enough to have me avoiding margarine for life and anything else that is hydrogenated (this means hydrogen is added, changing the molecular structure of the substance). Open a tub of margarine and leave it open in your garage or shaded area. Within a couple of days you will notice a couple of things: * no flies, not even those pesky fruit flies will go near it (that should tell you something) * it does not rot or smell differently because it has no nutritional value ; nothing will grow on it. Even those teeny weeny microorganisms will not a find a home to grow.
Why? Because it is nearly plastic . Would you melt your Tupperware and spread that on your toast?
you used to have to squeeze the colour tablet into the margarine to turn it yellow.

you used to have to squeeze the colour tablet into the margarine to turn it yellow.


Isn’t social media a powerful communication tool?  I haven’t been able to verify all the details but you get the idea. Margarine may not be one molecule from plastic, but it really doesn’t attract flies. It was not created to feed turkeys however, but rather was commissioned by Napolean III in France in the 1860’s for use by the armed forces and lower classes, and was popularized during the World Wars with dairy shortages that made butter expensive and rare. Did you know that margarine was banned in Canada until 1948 when the Supreme Court of Canada allowed its sale in stores.

There are pages on Facebook dedicated to all kinds of eating. I enjoy one called 100 Days of Real Food which at least has fun showcasing a diet that contains no processed food for her family. I think if you’re going to cut anything out, even if it’s junk, you should still remember to keep your sense of humour.

I don’t need convincing that the natural state of butter is a better choice than the more processed substance called margarine. I like the taste; if I want something with less fat, I’ll use olive oil, thank you. But I’m not going to point and stare at someone buying margarine, either. So imagine my surprise to see this new trend announced in a New York Times article, a system in restaurants that denotes approval from a panel of nutritionists. It’s called SPE, which stands for a Latin phrase that means “health through food”, and they say the basis of their concept is great flavours. So far, so good, until they explain that butter and cream are ingredients they won’t include. Say what?? I’m  with French Chef Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin in New York, who says he doesn’t believe in demonizing ingredients. Or as Julia Child was known to say, “if you’re afraid to use butter, use cream”. I’ll close with another of her quotes that I think shows a healthy attitude and sense of humour:

The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.

this is as close as we get to diet food at Rabbit Hollow. It comes from the garden in the summer,

this is as close as we get to diet food at Rabbit Hollow. It comes from the garden in the summer.

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