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Travel theme: flavour

I came in from outside tonight with my fingers all coated in saskatoon and raspberry juice, and read Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney’s post about harvesting berries – I took it as a sign. So, here I am contributing my handful of harvest ideas and memories to her theme for this week.

I live in the Okanagan, western Canada’s fruit basket. We have an edible fence in our front yard, with tayberries, golden and red raspberries, white currants, and two kinds of gooseberries. We also have a cherry tree that is over 60 years old, the only one left from the original orchard that surrounded our farmhouse. Late June our harvest begins with the currants and saskatoons, then it’s non-stop eating till the first frost.

 

As I stood out there tonight, picking and eating (you know, “one for the bowl, one for me”), I thought of how fortunate we are. To live in a place where all summer long I can eat my fill with the dogs nuzzling at my feet – it made me think of the phrase “an embarrassment of riches”.

When I was a kid growing up in Calgary, berries were much more of a luxury. My parents tried to grow raspberries, but we only ever managed a few handfuls for a harvest. My mom would buy them occasionally but they were doled out like gold coins. Perhaps that is part of why they taste so good now.

My favourite way to eat berries is by the handful right off the bush, but if I’m cooking them I want to make sure I can still taste the full impact of their flavour.

  • Our golden raspberriesberry financiers are more delicate in taste than red ones, but in Raspberry Financiers they shine. These are delicious for brunch or afternoon tea, and they make a delectable hostess gift.
  • Gooseberries have great taste but they are tough to deal with. The prickly bushes put up a good fight for their bounty, and their stems and tails are rather gnarly to eat. I like to make syrup by simply boiling the fruit with a bit of sugar and then I strain it for syrup – yummy on pancakes, ice cream, or even in salad dressing.
  • Currants are good for syrup too, and you can take things a step further and make mostarda. This Italian condiment is a great savoury match for roasted meats and cheeses. You can use this recipe for cherry mostarda for currants too.

As a foodie, I am all about the flavours of life. It amazes me that Mother Nature can offer us so many variations on a theme. I mean really, your imagination has to be good to develop the sweetness and range of colour in blueberries and golden raspberries and then head all the way through the spectrum to the different but equally delicious tangy gooseberries and currants.

I’m not sure what flavour the fuzzy saskatoons have – that was more about texture, not one I wanted to sample …


I have been fortunate to have flavour memories from other parts of the world, but I’ll save that for another post. Today I’m just going to stay grateful for the bountiful flavours of home.

Grow and Show

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:

The first cucumber! Now if only my lettuce would catch up.

Basil! To go with …

Tomatoes! The red plastic is working. This black krim in the greenhouse is the first to bear fruit (with the plastic they are supposed to bear more fruit earlier.)

My pride and joy – the Pink Gilbert grape vine that grows over the stone wall and makes the perfect picture with the window Martin made. I finally got its shoots thinned today.


Cheers to all those gardeners out there, and to the many eaters that share in our harvest.  Here’s to a bountiful season!

Apples Galore

It’s harvest season in the Okanagan and apples are the feature at the moment. I asked my husband Martin to weigh in this week, as he is a chef and a big fan of apples. He even offers his recipe for apple compote, which he calls “goop”. Please feel free to offer your two cents in comments with a favourite apple recipe or variety!

apples galore Okanagan Happy Gourmand

She says:

Apples are a symbol of so many things – certainly autumn, as they fill the fruit stands by the bin and taste of the fresh crisp fall air; also good health, being the quintessential simple nutritious food that could “keep the doctor away”. They have become a symbol of technology too – Steve Jobs apparently liked the apple because of its simplicity and beauty. Maybe there is a lesson in all that symbolism, that life itself can be simply enjoyed.

Apples are one of the first foods ever recorded, being a symbol for not only knowledge but also temptation. Did you know that as far as the 17th century, all fruit and even some vegetables were referred to as a kind of apple? Tomatoes were “love apples”, and cucumbers were “earth apples”. Apples have been at the centre of many tales in history, both true and fictional… Snow White succumbed to an apple from the evil witch, Sir Isaac Newton is said to have come upon the idea of gravitational forces and apples abound in religious and mythological stories from Norway to Greece to Wales. They certainly seem to have an impact on our lives, so I think it behooves us not to make sure we enjoy them. candied apples

apple bobbing Happy GourmandIf you can’t think of anything better, perhaps a bit of apple bobbing is in order for Hallowe’en? At least a candy or a caramel apple seems appropriate this time of year. If you want festivities, check out your local events calendar for fall fairs and farmers’ markets. The Kelowna Farmers and Crafters Market happens outside through the end of October. There are lots of great vendors featuring local products, including my friends from Westbank Harvest who have a delicious apple cider they only produce in the fall. The Family Pumpkin Fest is on at Davison Orchards in Vernon this weekend, and they have very tasty caramel and candy apples 🙂

Kristin

He says:

Well, believe it or not the summer is over and apple time is back. Most orchards are just picking the last fruit off the trees and soon will be closing their doors until next summer.

My daughter is now 20 years old and like most kids that age, hanging out with dad at a fruit stand is not as much fun as it used to be. barrel of applesThe good news is that I did that many times with her when she was younger so my hope now is that she passes it on to my grandchildren one day. Food values are not something that comes naturally to our children like many other values, we as the parents need to educate, show by example and even push upon them that eating one apple a day is still a good idea. Eating something that grew on a tree has to be more important to them, more so than eating any old thing – like frozen pizza pockets flushed down with a Red Bull.

Food values come to children just the same way as if you tell your children eat broccoli and don’t eat soap. Early on in their lives, you decide what is good for them and what isn’t and later on you hope that these short lessons stuck with them so that as they grow older they make the right choices. Guess what, eating dinner, sitting down at a table the whole family together is still the best place for those lessons.

If you are having a hard time selling this to your kids, try showing them the IPOD, or IPAD or even a MAC computer… and show them the logo… “yes honey, it’s an apple, and guess what there’re a bit missing in the apple to show you that apples are good for you, honey!”

Good luck

Chef Martin
waffles with apple goop

Make Apple Goop with your kids this Sunday and show them that cooking is simple and good for them.

Recipe Testing – you win some, you lose some

recipe box

So I decided to try some recipes that I saw in my surfing this week… I must admit, I still do more surfing in good old-fashioned print than I do online, but nonetheless there is lots to sift through. I have taken to pulling pages from magazines to minimize the stock in my recipe bookcase, as after 25 years of surfing I would be suffocated otherwise 🙂

Fall always makes me want to cook, with all the goodness of harvest overflowing at the market stands. This last week I found a few fall dessert recipes and I got to making 3 of them. Two were a hit, one was a miss. I am posting the links to both here, and would love to hear comments – have you tried them,, or similar recipes? Did you like them? Do you read recipe reviews? Do you believe them? Do you trust recipes in print more than online, or vice versa?? When I started gathering recipes they were the ones I had tasted or had come from cooks I knew (my Mom, my Aunts, my best friend… you know how it used to work). One of the recipes I made was supposedly from a restaurant chef, and yet it was a total fail. How do I know in today’s remote world what to trust? Help!!

The first recipe I made came from a blog that is hosted through a shop I love in Seattle, World Spice Merchants. They have the most complete selection of spices and herbs I have ever seen under one roof, and their staff are extremely knowledgeable. Cardamom and Olive Oil Cake was the title. I was interested by the uniqueness of the recipe, and how it offered an “outside the box” combination of ingredients. I have posted on the blog asking if I made some error in the recipe preparation but I have not heard back.  (I printed the page and followed the listed directions explicitly, using the noted weights and not measurements in hopes of being the most accurate).  I’m still interested to try the recipe if there is something I missed, but the way it came out it’s not my cup of tea. I suppose I should have taken a picture but it was so sad – only 1 cm (1/2 inch) high, and pale and oily. Not nice.

The second recipe I made was a much more mainstream item but it looked good.  Apple Cake with caramel sauce It came out of a Walmart magazine if you can believe it 🙂 Apple Coffee Cake. We live in the Okanagan and it’s harvest season so an apple cake seemed like just the thing. Full disclosure: I did tweak this one a bit by adding dried cranberries along with the apple. It’s not racy, but it works, even if you want to go more healthy and omit the caramel topping. (We almost always have homemade caramel sauce on hand so I used that for a few pieces and we ate the rest plain.)

buttermilkThe third recipe I also found online, through a search based on an ingredient.  We had a litre of buttermilk in the fridge that was nearing its expiry and so I thought it would be good to make some muffins using buttermilk. This recipe from Williams Sonoma looked to be the best reviewed of the ones I found. I tweaked this one too at the last minute, adding a few spoonsful of mixed peel just for fun. These were tasty – great breakfast muffins. banana buttermilk muffins

It’s coming up on Thanksgiving and I’m thankful I’m not testing recipes on my guests for the holiday. I’d hate to have something “not nice” come out of the oven and have to make excuses for friends and family. Having a husband as a chef that is a cardinal rule in our house – we test things at home and might use each other as guinea pigs, but people we invite get treated to tried and true recipes we know and love.

Do you have any cooking disappointments? What’s your philosophy on cooking a new recipe for guests? At the end of the day I suppose the most important thing is gathering people together around the table, so even if it’s to decide as a group that pizza needs to be ordered, well that’s OK too.

Happy Thanksgiving. May your kitchen be full of good smells and good company.

An apple a day

Ambrosia apples are well-named; they make a great midday snack.

I had a funny conversation recently with a foodie friend and there were a number of well-known expressions and sentiments we used that  use food terms. That reaffirmed yet again for me just how much food is a part of our everyday lives – in ways we don’t even consider. Dare I say this is food for thought, or should I rather say you would do well to take this column with a grain of salt? (I think by now you see where I am going with this… ) 

I entitled this week’s column using that age-old phrase that has become the poster child for healthy living – and did you know that in Ancient Greece throwing an apple to a woman was a way to propose marriage? (If she caught it, it meant yes. That is one way you become the apple of someone’s eye…) When the expression about keeping doctors away became popular in the 19th century, they had no scientific way of knowing that apples were healthy but they saw the proof in the pudding. (Would that have been apple pudding, I wonder??) Bad apples made their way into expressions too, and I suppose you could argue that might have been due to Eve’s unfortunate experience but a more modern version is perhaps the more obvious truth – spoiling a good effort only takes one small token, whether it is one apple in a barrel or one party pooper in a bunch of folks.

The apple expressions are ones that we use all the time, but with the approach of the holiday season the phrase “nuttier than a fruitcake” also came to mind, which of course then brought on all sorts of derogatory comments about fruitcake. I thought the phrase was meant to ridicule the person, and since I am one of the very few people in the world who publicly claim to enjoy fruitcake, I took offense. Fruitcake does not even have that many nuts – maybe that is why we don’t call it nutcake! Just because something is not your cup of tea doesn’t mean it’s a recipe for disaster. Mind you, perhaps there was a crazy Christmas baker in history, for in the UK they have mincemeat, which is similar to fruitcake in its taste and ingredients and there if you say that someone is “as thick as mince” it also means they are not altogether there. (Or perhaps it was just partaking of the rum and/or brandy that the fruit soaked in that made them a bit out to lunch.)

Many idioms so seem to have a logical history to them, but there are others that seem even more elusive. Why would we care who brought home the bacon – wouldn’t we rather know who was bringing home the pork roast? (It comes from a small town in England that offered a side of bacon to any man who hadn’t quarreled with his wife for a year and a day. Even then, that was something to appreciate!) And when was the last time you tried to cut mustard? Well, if you had ever tried to cut down mustard stalks you would know how difficult it is, but if you have ever “cut” dried mustard with vinegar or water then you know too that there is a standard for getting a good final product. Aren’t you glad you know those things now?

mustard fields in Saskatchewan – definitely a full day’s work to cut!

In keeping with the fall season and the resurgence of comfort foods, I will finish with a phrase I found particularly intriguing: “Fine words butter no parsnips”. I looked up the background to this one and found that it dates back to 1639 when people often ate parsnips instead of potatoes. If you have tasted them before, you know that parsnips are a food that needs to be buttered (or otherwise glazed – alone, they are quite bitter). The phrase may contain the root of a broader idiom – “to butter someone up” – in that it means words are not the same as actions. You can butter someone up, but it does not necessarily mean you will convince them; only the real thing will do.

I hope this week’s column has allowed you to “go to bed less stupid” as Martin says; or to give you one more expression, you can now tell people that you didn’t just fall off a turnip truck!

thanks to the folks at Nashvilleforfree.com who took this photo to advertise the Turnip Truck food store in Gulch

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