Today is Family Day where I live. A long weekend, a chance for families to spend some time together. Not the Spring Break-kind of vacation time, but perhaps a chance to see a movie, or make a trip to the ski hill (there is still snow up there although not much left in town). If people can manage to arrange their busy schedules to make quality time happen, I’m all for that.
In our house, the easiest way to make quality time is to set the table. Does that sound old-fashioned and corny?
We are passionate about food in all its forms – growing it, cooking it and eating it. That too is weird for lots of people, I realize. What can I say? I was brought up in a house where meal time was important and where a nice meal was a big deal. Everyday meals were not to be taken lightly either.
Growing up I didn’t think of us as not having much, but according to my parents there were times when things were tight. I loved Tuna Casserole and shepherd’s pie for dinner, so what did I know?
I don’t think I realized tuna could be eaten another way than from a can until I was much older, and I thought everyone made shepherd’s pie in their electric frying pan just like my mom. Seasoning was what counted, and she knew how to make flavourful meals.
Many of our meals today are simple – we eat salad for dinner at least a couple times every week. When we invite people for dinner we apply ourselves, offering something fun and colourful. It might be simple if it’s dinner before a movie, or it might be Sunday roast with all the trimmings; it’s always an occasion worth celebrating, just like at the family table when I was a kid.
Anyone around my table are like family – I want them to feel comfortable, taken care of and happy.
They shouldn’t feel guilty having seconds, and they needn’t worry about offending if they push the mushrooms or onions to one side. I am happy they could be there and enjoy the time – that’s what counts.
So how’s about we make every Monday a Family Day? You get the cutlery and place mats, I’ll grab the tuna casserole. I’ll meet you at the table.
Perhaps it’s because I am now in charge of the garden and not one of my mom’s minions, but I am now a proud gardener.
As a kid I used to begrudge my time in the garden – it always happened when other summer activities were in full swing, like long weekends when friends went swimming or camping. I was planting or weeding or harvesting.
Planting wasn’t too bad, but it sure took a long time to see the results of one’s labour. Weeding was the worst, as it seemed to be a losing battle. (I still feel that way most days but I’ve learned to feel the worth in anger management therapy. ) Harvesting was fun as it was the payoff – but it’s like cycling downhill… there is another side to it.
All downhills have an up, and the garden harvest has to be eaten. Since it tends to be ready in large quantities at once, this means processing what you can’t eat right away. I still have a vivid sensory memory of the yucky taste in my mouth after sucking the air out of blanched snow peas and beans. (The freezer bags came with a short straw to do your own “vacuum sealing”. It was a good concept but I have since learned squishing the bag is just as good. )
Now I take pride in every little victory, and I check every morning to see the changes. (It’s funny how it took me many miles in life before I could fully appreciate short spans of time.) I suppose this is just another way of stopping to smell the flowers, isn’t it, Mumsy?
So, here’s my “grow and show” for this week:
Cheers to all those gardeners out there, and to the many eaters that share in our harvest. Here’s to a bountiful season!
Living as a country mouse means I get to enjoy space and quiet and peace of mind most days. That’s not to say I don’t like a dose of urban hustle and bustle once in a while. Hubbie and I just got back from a whirlwind weekend in Vancouver, so I thought I would share some of our highlights. Then you can try out our discoveries, if you like what you see.
We met my stepdaughter for dinner on Friday night in downtown Vancouver. She is recently engaged so we knew the conversation would be all about wedding plans. That required a place casual enough for lots of silly chatting and sharing of Pinterest photos; a tapas restaurant in Gastown sounded perfect. The Sardine Can worked out really well, with delicious food and lovely wine.
As an added tip, I’ll mention that Gastown is a busy part of town for after-work drinks and socializing. Be prepared to wait – you will likely have to get a drink at one place while you wait for a seat at another place. Maple Tree Square is the centre of the action, with restaurants and pubs all around. We wandered into Chill Winston to have our first toast of the evening, since The Sardine Can only has a few seats and they were all full.
We visited, but you could go alone and enjoy – it’s a great people-watching spot, and the staff are friendly. Our bartender Charlie even made a custom drink for my stepdaughter.
The tapas were great and the Spanish wines helped transport us; we felt as if we’d snuck into a cozy spot on a side street in San Sebastián.
By the time we were done we had discussed wardrobe, menu, flowers, and the ceremony venue.
When your Papa is a chef who knows pastry and chocolate, dessert has its own significance. A trip to Sweet Obsession was in order.
This gem in Kitslano was made famous by a protegé of my hubbie, so it’s near and dear to our hearts. Tracey now owns Lemonade Bakery, where she specializes in gluten free products. There is no cafe to stay and eat, but it is worth a trip even if you aren’t gluten free.
On Saturday we had to make our cardinal stop. Ever since I was a kid, my favourite foodie spot in Vancouver has been Granville Island Public Market. It still warms my heart and my tummy on every visit, especially now that it’s the source of so many memories.Brave the busy parking and shuffle your way through the crowds – it’s worth all the fuss to enjoy a coffee, or a piece of pie, or fresh fruit, or fudge, or fish and chips (they have it all) and sit outside to watch the boats and birds in False Creek.
We stocked up on all our favourites, planning for a picnic dinner that night in our hotel room. (Having a full suite with a kitchen made it easier and much more comfortable than eating on a hotel bed.) More on that later.
Saturday lunch was for more family time, so again casual was the theme. Hubbie wanted to do some research, so we chose a BBQ joint – oddly enough, it was back at the same square in Gastown that we had visited the night before.
We met my brother and his girlfriend to trade gifts and then wandered down to Peckinpah BBQ, a southern style joint where most of the menu is set up very simply: pick your meat, then choose a few “sides” to go with it. There was beef, pork and chicken (we had a bit of each). Sides included corn bread, hush puppies (basically fried cornbread), coleslaw, fried pickles, and of course mac and cheese.
I can’t speak for the mac and cheese as we skipped that one but the other items were all solid efforts. I prefer vinaigrette for my coleslaw dressing; theirs was creamy and peppery. Fried pickles are good if you eat them fresh from the fryer; wait more than a few minutes and they get soggy. The jalapeño mayo they make for dipping the pickles was just the right touch of heat. We discovered it worked well with hush puppies and chicken wings too.
There is something especially comforting about food shared with family after a long absence. My brother and I hadn’t shared a meal in years and dipping hush puppies together as we laughed at old stories made the tastes even better. I know it won’t be nearly as long till we sit around a table again.
The picnic my hubbie and I set out that evening was just a nibble before heading out dancing, as we weren’t very hungry after all that BBQ. What an elegant way to picnic, though, in our vintage suite at the Arundel Mansion Hotel in New Westminster.
Sunday brunch was my own sentimental indulgence. Years ago my dad introduced me to a place out by the airport that was unique in its ambience. The Flying Beaver Bar & Grill sits on the water in Richmond, next door to the Harbour Air terminal for seaplanes. You can sit and watch them land and take off as you sip your beer and nibble on a homemade burger or Eggs Benny. I hadn’t been back in years, but it was just as good as I remember. (It’s just busier, like everything in Vancouver fifteen years later.)
Sometimes we head to the city and try out new places, looking for new adventure. This time was more about connections. It was heartwarming to reconnect and add to the memories. Not to mention we filled the fridge with delicacies.
If you work in the hospitality business, it’s likely that Monday is your day off. If you work in a small place, it is likely closed on Monday. As a result, Monday becomes our Saturday. (Because when everyone else is enjoying Saturday, we are looking after them in restaurants and hotels and bars…) I am definitely motivated to cook something nice on my Saturday.
So, here I was on Monday, motivated to do a nice dinner at home. Thankfully our local fishmonger is open, so I picked up a nice piece of wild sockeye salmon (I added in a few prawns just for fun.) Local asparagus season has just begun, making it easy to pick a veggie. And we had picked up some buckwheat groats to try recently, so that rounded out the meal. I decided to go with a Mediterranean theme to bring all the elements of the meal together.
I had errands to run in town, so this relatively quick spread was a perfect choice. I wanted to make a rhubarb tart, but that will have to be in another post as traffic was just too busy to leave time for dessert making. I was able to make dinner in 40 minutes, from pulling the salmon out of the fridge to sitting down at the table. Here’s how:
- Cooking buckwheat groats is like any other grain – you boil it in water. Technically it is a seed (did you know it’s in the same family as rhubarb? And it’s gluten free?) Ours only took 15 minutes, and then I seasoned it with some crumbled feta and chopped fresh oregano and chives from the garden.
- I wanted some complexity with the asparagus so I sautéed some onions first. I poached the asparagus in a bit of white wine and then warmed it with the onions and a dash of Aleppo pepper.
- The salmon was seared in a pan and finished in the oven. I marinated it with an Italian herb blend, olive oil and Meyer lemon zest and juice. A good old thermometer to make sure it’s done right and we’re set (“medium”, 137-142F or 58-63C).
Ta da! A fresh start to a new week.
Chocolate and peanut butter. Some people aren’t crazy about the combination, but most North Americans love it. It could be argued that this is the best example of a truly original American taste.
Did you know that Mr. H.B. Reese invented the chocolate covered peanut butter cup? Yes, there really was a Mr. Reese. And guess what? He worked for Hershey’s before he left to create his own candy company in the 1920’s. Apparently the one condition Hershey’s had for him when he left was that he buy all his chocolate from them. How about that!
Even today, almost one hundred years after this unique confection was created, it is still the best selling candy in America. Hershey’s bought the company in the 1960’s but the Reese name still sticks. Even the increase in people allergic to peanuts has not slowed their popularity.
I am a big fan of chocolate and peanut butter together. Peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips are more than a bit better, they are close to nirvana. Chocolate peanut butter ice cream, if well made, should probably be illegal. But I had never made an actual candy with chocolate and nut butter.
To be fair, the recipe I used was for cashew butter with chocolate. It’s good, but next time I’m going to use peanut butter. My brain tasted the finished product and I could hear it saying inside my head, “it’s fine, but it would be just that much better if it was the real thing.”
I’ll let you decide. Perhaps you are allergic to peanuts. Since cashews are a tree nut, they might be a good alternative. You can easily leave out the pomegranate seeds in this recipe, too – add dried cranberries instead if you like, or nothing. Power Bark is good even if you make it with just the chocolate and the nut butter. Just sayin’.