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My bucket list is full of snacks

I just had another birthday and of course that brings with it all kinds of memories and more than a little thought about what is left to do on my bucket list. I had the good fortune of finishing last month on a foodie trip to Terra Madre 2012, and that refueled my passion for exotic food experiences (pardon the pun). Being a foodie, many of my bucket list items include a mention of food, so I thought it might be fun to share them…

  • I’ve always wanted to see the New England states, doing a bicycle tour. A bit of Maine lobster, perhaps a New Hampshire breakfast, and of course a whoopie pie! And who wouldn’t want to try a Smuttynose beer?

    Any company that has “Old Brown Dog Ale” is definitely alright in my book 🙂

  • I love convivial music, and seafood, and a bit of spice, so The Big Easy (New Orleans) is definitely on my bucket list.

    I can taste the crayfish and hear the music …

  • I have read about popular chefs and their restaurants for decades, and one place I have still never been is Spago. Wolfgang Puck is a kitchen icon who has survived a long time in a fickle world. 

    It’s just so quintessentially LA, don’t you think?

  • Although I’m not a fan of haggis or salt cod, I would like to visit the countries of my heritage – Scotland and Iceland – and enjoy at least some of their specialties on home turf. 

    Lunch in the Highlands, anyone?

    Who knew there were so many specialty foods so far north?

  • I want to go truffle-hunting. I have hunted for chocolate truffles in France 🙂 but never black truffles in Italy. I got to eat them in Turin last month as part of the truffle festival, so now I just want to see them in their natural habitat.

    Mmm, Italian decadence.

I like travelling because I get to experience different cultures, and a large part of culture has to do with food. Markets showcase specialties, and meal formats are linked to climates and family structure and business patterns. When I share those experiences in a new place, I feel privileged. I enjoy the kinship that comes from the humble sharing of food at a table.

Of course, even at home that can be special. Sharing a meal with friends and family always creates new memories, and this time of year is especially good for that. We will be hosting our yearly dessert party for neighbours and friends in a couple of weeks, an event that always warms my heart. Deep down,  I guess my bucket list is about sharing happy times with others, and often that happens through food.

Do you think I’m crazy or obsessed? Do you dream about great meals too? I’d love to know if I’m the only one who sees the kitchen as the centre of the universe.

Well, that’s enough for tonight. I have to go choose the wine for Sunday dinner 🙂

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Connecting with people

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I love getting comments and feedback from fellow bloggers and readers, and I was thrilled to see a comment from The Redhead Chronicles that they had nominated me for a Liebster Award! It’s great to connect with people and know they liked what you had to say. (Perhaps I just enjoyed discovering a fellow rambler!)  In the interest of sharing, I am answering the five questions that are a part of the process…

1. What inspires you to write?

Well, it can be just about anything. Sometimes even a lack of an idea can inspire me… it makes me think of the mundane everyday activities and how they can be important.

2. Tell me about a time when your life changed, for better or for worse.

Only one? Okay, here’s one that had better and worse. My Chocolate Labrador Retriever, Satchmo went blind and I felt horrible – she was only 7 years old. But I found a great vet that specialized in eye treatments and once she got a glass eye and special drops for the other eye, she was right as rain. Satchmo taught me more about enjoying life in the remaining 8 years of her life than anyone else I know.

3. Describe one of your favorite things, only using adjectives. Put the name of what it is in parentheses afterwards.

Peaceful, breathtaking, rejuvenating, joyous, warm, soulful, friendly, welcoming, happy (Rabbit Hollow, where I live)

4. Chinese food…or Mexican food? The world needs to know.

Tough one – there are so many variations of both. I think because I am a warm climate lover though, I have to say Mexican. I love the roasted chilis and the cilantro and mmm, garden fresh tomatoes.

5. What’s one thing you wish other bloggers knew about you that they don’t?

Gee, I’m not sure. I have a tendency to spill my guts about things that I care about, so if they read my blog other bloggers probably know a fair bit. I suppose I wish they knew how much I would love to post more often, but can’t seem to get away from the work that has to pay the bills to write for fun.

And, because I like to ramble, I’ll throw in the questions I thought were cool from Redhead’s list…

train, plane, bus or car? – I’m not fussy if I get to go somewhere new or interesting! I just love to travel. Trains are nostalgic, though, for sure. And I have always wanted to try out a hot air balloon.

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top 5 destinations for your bucket list? – I want to go back to South Africa – with my husband this time, and I would love to scuba dive & drink wine in Australia, and Morocco was on my list from the beginning (who doesn’t want to say they were at “the Casbah”?!). Then there is Scotland, to check out my roots and another trip to Europe for the food (I can’t just limit that to one country).

So, is that enough random rambling for you? Have I provided you with at least one idea for dinner conversation? I promise I’ll come up with something more cohesive for my next post. Please feel free to leave your comments!

It’s Not Easy Being Green

We sprang forward this past weekend and at Rabbit Hollow that sentiment was taken to heart. We don’t have a particularly hard winter in the Okanagan, certainly not for Canada anyway, but there is still snow and frozen ground and cold winds with which to contend. Every year I marvel as the ground comes to life again; I feel a sense of expansiveness that is not there in winter, as the green shoots grow and the air warms. My admiration for all the new life spurs me on, too. Brighter colours seem the order of the day, so I do my best to participate.

a spring wreath offsets the windwalker hanging at the front entry to the house at Rabbit Hollow

It did my heart good on Sunday to see my first robin of the year as I awoke to Daylight Savings Time. When I walked the dogs I noticed the green shoots in the grass. As I looked closer, I could see tulips poking through the mulch and even a little viola making a brave face in the wind. Every living thing was cheering the coming of spring.

The first Johnny Jump-up to celebrate spring. These violas will re-seed themselves quite happily if you let them.

The icing on the cake was in the back yard. I noticed the forsythia was beginning to show shoots, but the lead cheerleader for the spring cause was the pussy willow. I squealed like a birthday girl with balloons when I saw the fuzzy shoots as big as my thumb, all up the branches. There was certainly more spring in my step as I continued through the orchard on our route.

My shining glory - the pussywillow in "the back 40" at Rabbit Hollow.

I have to remember to take it easy, as spring comes slowly in Canada. I have planted garden seeds in February, to be ahead of the curve. But they can’t go outside until late April and by then they end up being stringy shoots reaching for more sun than I can offer them.

It’s not easy being green, as Kermit said. Those beautiful shoots work so hard to make it through the ground and to keep growing. If they are perennials that survived the winter, they deserve a marching band to announce their return, if you ask me. Once they’re up, they have to make it through spring rains and wind, and possibly even another frost. It’s still a long way till there are rows of green in my veggie garden. In the meantime, I will just have to keep cheering them on.

This is an actual cheerleading garden gnome, wearing the North Carolina Tar Heels colours. It was Michael Jordan's team, and always one of my faves. After all, it is March madness. (I don't have one in the yard, though)

Stay tuned in future weeks as I plan out the heirloom seeds for this year. If you have any favourites you plant in your garden, I would love to hear!

Friendship Food

Happiness in a foil wrapper

I was in the kitchen at home looking for a treat with my tea and discovered a Baci chocolate, the perfect little nibble. It turned out to be not only a tasty treat but also an inspiration; if you’re not familiar, Baci’s are an Italian chocolate (the translation is “kiss”, but they put the Hershey’s version to shame). Each one contains a special message on the subjects of love and friendship. The message this time read:

Friendship brings great happiness with little gestures.

So true – it is the little things that make up the fabric of our lives.

I first discovered Baci’s on my first trip to Europe, discovering the world at the grand old age of eighteen. My first foodie friend, a delectable young woman from South Africa, introduced them to me and I have to say they are still one of my favourite treats. They have a hazelnut filling that is sublime, and for extra excitement there is a whole hazelnut just under the chocolate coating. The messages they contained were exceedingly powerful when read while strolling the streets of Rome, arm in arm with my new friend, dreaming of international romances and happy-ever-after endings.

As I got older, the notion of comfort food became a more common thing with friends. I guess as life progressed, the problems seemed bigger and so a corresponding dose of  food was needed to work out a solution. Thankfully, I had a friend who was a master at such things – fruit crisp being one of them. She had the magical touch for just the right amount of crunch and sweetness in the crumb topping, and her inspired combinations of fruit were full of exotic flavours and the cheery taste of summer sunshine. It was just the thing to cheer you up when you were blue, or to spur you on if you were waffling on some big idea…

Cooking together with friends is a wonderful thing to do, and you really know when you have a special connection if you can create magic in the kitchen. I am lucky that both these girlfriends and I have been able to cook together over the years, making some fantastic meals that have been shared with our families over and over as we remember the good times and great flavours. We live in different parts of the world, but as soon as we enter each other’s kitchens, the tea pot goes on and it’s like we just walked in from down the street. I just returned from Calgary where the tea pot is just now cooling off, and I feel rejuvenated as a result.

I don’t have the fruit crisp recipe, as there isn’t one written down (Sue says she just “feels it”) but here is a recipe from South Africa that is a national favourite; I copied it from the piece of airmail paper I still have between the pages of one of my cookbooks. My friend Merle also claimed it never missed with the menfolk (wink wink, nudge nudge as they say in the UK where she now lives, happily married).

Ultra Divine Cape Brandy Pudding

Serves 6-8 people

250 g dates, stoned and chopped finely

5 mL(1 tsp) baking soda

250 mL (1 cup) boiling water

125 g (1/2 cup) butter or margarine

250 ml (1 cup) sugar

500 mL (2 cups) flour

5 mL (1 tsp) baking powder

2 mL (1/2 tsp) salt

250 mL walnuts or pecans, chopped finely

2 eggs, beaten

Sauce:

250 mL (1 cup) sugar

15 mL (1 tbsp) butter

150 mL (1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp) water

5 mL (1 tsp) vanilla extract

125 mL (1/2 cup) brandy (“Yahoo!” she writes)

 

Divide dates into 2 portions and put into separate bowls. Add baking soda to one and pour boiling water over it; allow to cool.

Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs thoroughly, one by one. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into creamed mixture.

Add dry portion of date and nuts, mixing well to blend.

Stir in baking soda-date mixture – mix thoroughly.

Turn into large dish, and bake at 180C (350F) for 45 minutes or till golden brown on top and knife inserted in centre comes out clean.

 Prepare sauce by heating sugar, butter and water together in saucepan 5 minutes. Remove from stove and stir in vanilla and brandy.

Pour sauce over pudding as it comes out of the oven. Serve hot or cold with whipped cream.

(K’s NOTE: I have poured the sauce over each serving too, which also works well.)

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