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How sweet it is!

On Wednesdays, I get to bring out my alter ego. For most Wednesdays over the past eleven years, I get to be a big kid. I have been known for most of that time amongst the other kids as “Poppy”, a name that I love not just because the flower is one of my favourites (bright, a bit unruly, and one of the first to happily signal summer is coming), It was also the name of one of the coolest grown-ups I knew when I was a kid. My Poppy had long red hair and she was a sort of princess in my mind – the peasant skirts, the hippie music that seemed to follow her and the magical smile and twinkle in her eye were all part of that persona. I don’t get to be that much of a free spirit, but the blue vest adorned with crests and pins all around a gigantic trefoil on my back do give me some renown. You see, I am a Girl Guide leader.

girl-guide-leaders-at-camp

one of my favourite camping trips, and the leaders who made it so much fun!

kpl-and-nancy-at-ggc-christmas-sing-along

With my mom, at the yearly district Christmas sing along (where we have 400 plus people around the bonfire!)

Currently, I am working with Sparks, the tiniest of girls allowed into the organization. We have 22 little sprites in our unit, run with wonderful humour and an incredible sense of organization by my fellow leader, mentor and friend of those eleven years, “Sparkle” (aptly named, don’t you think?).

girl-guide-leaders-with-olympic-torch

“Sparkle”, and another of our fellow leaders from when we had a Guide unit. Great experiences!

It’s a wonderful experience to share in the adventures of young girls, and ones this small are especially enthusiastic – about everything. It’s contagious.

This week we are learning about Canada, and so I bamboozled my fantastic husband to help me represent Quebec at one of our activity stations. We only have ten minutes out of an hour’s meeting to wow them with something memorable, so what to do?? Well, it’s not that tough – we will tell them about Bonhomme and the Quebec Carnival, and we will feed them maple taffy on fresh snow, called “tire sur neige” in Quebec. How cool is that?! We are going on a tobogganing camp in a couple of weeks, so this is sure to put them right in the spirit of winter. Thankfully, at this age, they don’t seem to feel the cold and so being out in the minus twenty or so weather will just be an adventure. Meanwhile, I’m digging out all my woollies to take to camp!

You know what they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. I could post historic photos of sap being gathered. I wish my hubby had pictures of when he was young and on the horse-drawn wagons at his uncle’s sugar shack. But we’ll have to make do with the sticky fingers and gooey taffy to give you the general idea of the fun we had. tire-sur-neige-1Some may say it’s bad to give kids sugar so close to bedtime, sending them home all hyped up to their weary parents.tire-sur-neige-2 Sorry folks, I will selfishly say that I enjoy every minute and don’t intend to stop having fun with my little Spark pals anytime soon. I hope they will remember me with the same kind of mischievous twinkle as I do the Poppy of my childhood.

 

 

 

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… Comes Around

this is part 2 of my earlier post, What Goes Around… where I offer a way out of the “food guilt” that we foodies may feel amidst the mass production of a plethora of foods and the slippery slope between following every new trend and being true to your food.

lemons and olive oil Happy GourmandI am a believer in moderation and practicality. For most people, the idea of living within the concept of the 100 mile diet is not something they are willing to do. I know I enjoy lemons and coffee and olive oil too much to say I will swear off eating them. My husband says anything that is called a diet puts him off immediately (chefs don’t like being limited).

I like the concept of Slow Food, that says you support local producers and encourage traditions to continue as part of everyday life in working towards a sustainable food community. That can include supporting the local store that sells  organic lemons and fair trade coffee and  artisan olive oil, as they are likely the place that also sells local strawberries (instead of the imported ones shipped by the pallet-load) and other seasonal fare.strawberry fields

I also think that education is crucial, and it happens to be another Slow Food pillar. We all need to understand our food – where it comes from, how it grows, what connection it has to our history and our future. If the only way we see food is wrapped in plastic, already portioned, then our education suffers from a lack of information. Children should know that bacon comes from a pig, not a grocery store. When they understand the pigs can live a happy life then maybe they don’t need to think they should be vegetarians because we are cruel to animals. If there is no sharing of traditional celebrations or recipes and their preparation, then our palates suffer from a lack of distinction in flavour. Grandma’s recipes should live for generations, and not just because they were published. Often the secret is in knowing just how to prepare a dish, or season it, so that it has that special something. We all deserve to be thrilled with our own food.

Maybe I did play a part in creating the monster. Now that it has reared its ugly head, though, there seems no reason I can’t be of help in getting a lasso around its neck so we can train it to work with us instead of against us. If sharing my enthusiasm can include the encouragement for others to learn the whole picture and not just the processed one, then perhaps we can reach a happy medium. Everyone deserves to have access to good, clean, fair food – food that tastes good, and is free from unnecessary chemicals, and for which the producer receives a fair price. All these advantages are then passed along to the consumer, who is aware and supports all of these tenets.

I am fortunate enough to live in a region where there are many people connected to the land, and happy to share their enthusiasm and their knowledge. Slow Food is a new organization in our community, but its philosophy is already alive and well here in the Okanagan, and I am proud to be a part of it. There is an orchard down the road from our house that is owned by the same family who planted it one hundred years ago (in the Canadian west that’s a long time!)Okanagan peaches Happy Gourmand They sell the fruit at the fruit stand on the corner, and the taste of fruit picked that morning simply does not compare to the same variety packaged in crates and shipped and sold in a major chain store. In season, the fruit stand prices are close and sometimes even cheaper than the stores, but I for one am willing to pay a bit more for the taste of fresh Okanagan sunshine packaged that way. Maybe the extra pennies are like penance for my foodie sins, but I don’t mind – it’s worth every delicious bite!

Do you have a favourite local food or traditional recipe? What is a delicacy where you live or where you come from?? I’d love to hear your comments. If you prefer Facebook, you can join me thereslow soup too!

If you are interested to learn more about Slow Food, you can check out their fabulous website with many stories. There are convivia (local chapters) in over 150 countries, so I’m sure there are like-minded souls near you. If you live in my neighbourhood, you can follow Slow Food Thompson Okanagan on Facebook.

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

You deserve a break

I’m the sort of person that is always curious about how things started, or who had the original idea for an iconic symbol or trend. One pastime that interests me in particular is our coffee culture, and why a simple beverage has become a ritual for us, an intrinsic part of our everyday life. Even people who don’t partake of the stuff know the steps in the ritual, and the places that support such rites are rife with adaptations for these non-believers (iced tea, fruit smoothies, flavoured water… all with multiple variations so you can order it your way like your coffee-loving companions). Taking a break is an important part of life, especially in an age where everything moves at supersonic speeds. Interestingly enough, the break seems to inspire many of us to greater heights. In case you needed to feel more justified in having your cup of joe, read on.

Did you know that the discovery of coffee apparently gets credited to an Ethiopian shepherd who lost his sheep and later found them dancing around a red cherry bush? The bush was a coffee plant, and when he tried the red cherries (unroasted coffee beans) he began to dance around the bush too. He told the story to monks and they told him they make a drink from the beans. As you can see, celebration was obviously an early part of the coffee ritual.

The first coffee shop opened in Constantinople in 1475, and in those days coffee was so important to the people that a woman could legally divorce her husband if he did not provide her with her daily quota of coffee. (Now doesn’t that make an interesting Timmy’s commercial!) When Pope Clemente VIII was asked to place a ban on coffee drinking, he refused, saying, “This beverage is so delicious it would be a sin to let only misbelievers drink it!”

There is much research and documentation to prove the relationship coffee has had to the development of our culture. Bach wrote a Coffee Cantata. Many a politician and literary personality developed their craft in coffee houses around the world. The Boston Tea Party made drinking coffee a very patriotic thing to do in the new United States. London And of course, we might not have had Harry Potter and the world of Hogwarts if J.K. Rowling hadn’t found a cozy neighbourhood coffee shop in which to write. London actually had coffee houses before Paris, but the French caught up quickly. One of their first coffee houses is said to be the birthplace of the first modern encyclopedia, being a popular hang-out for fellows such as Voltaire and Rousseau. You can consider yourself in good company the next time you sit and sip your grande non-fat latte.

Nowadays, people are more concerned with the environment and so “fair trade” coffee is more common. Smaller producers are supposed to have more of a chance at competing in the international market with working cooperatives that can compete on a larger scale. The paperwork to belong to a fair trade network can be costly and so sometimes larger producers can still get ahead faster, but the consumer support for the “little guys” has added pressure to produce results. The social impact of coffee shops continues on, having started centuries ago with discussion by artists and then Beat poets and musicians.

Whichever way you like your coffee, enjoy the time away from the hustle and bustle as you sip. Maybe you’ll be inspired to rally for a cause, or invent some new story or widget amidst the steam and the aromas of those artisan-roasted beans. If you’d like to comment on your favourite brew or place to go, please visit my Happy Gourmand Facebook page and join the conversation! If you need a cookie to go with your coffee, try out this old favourite I just posted in my Recipe Archives.

Epiphany – not just while brushing!

Have you ever heard someone say they “had an epiphany” while brushing their teeth? Well, Wikipedia lists the secular meaning of an epiphany as “the sudden realization or comprehension of the (larger) essence or meaning of something… (when someone) has new information or experience, often insignificant by itself, that illuminates a deeper foundational frame of reference”. My Mom calls them “a-ha moments”.

Arthur Fry, the inventer of the post-it note, with one on his forehead. He came up with the idea for marking the pages in his hymnal using a glue he made that didn’t stick well!

Well, Epiphany is also a holiday, one that occurs on January 6, and celebrates traditionally the baptism of Jesus Christ and/or the coming of the Magi. There are different interpretations of the dates of all the pieces of Christ’s history, but the common thread is that this day celebrated recognizing Christ as the Son of God. It was as big as Christmas, at one time. This is where the Twelve Days of Christmas comes from – January 6 is the “Twelfth Night”. In some Christian cultures, such as South America, this season was extended for 40 days, to Candlemas (February 2 – tune in to a later column to see the nifty history on that).

Of course, since this was a celebration, there was a feast and activities. Epiphany marked the end of the Christmas celebrations – the yule log would burn on the fire until this night, when the ashes would then be kept til next Christmas to rekindle the good spirit of the season. The Christmas tree and wreath were kept up until Epiphany and any dried or candied fruit that might decorate either one would be eaten as part of the feast (remember, fruit was hard to come by in winter, and so was a treasured gift and would not be wasted.) People would go singing door to door, and they or sometimes the priests would bless the house after a sip of wassail punch, and mark it with the year’s date in chalk. Shakespeare even wrote a play for this time, in which many elements are reversed, as was common during this bit of celebrating (this tradition seems to go back to pagan rituals, which celebrated Epiphany as the end of the season that started at All Hallow’s Eve, when the world turned upside down.) And in many cultures there would be a “king cake”, baked with a bean or pea in the filling. The person receiving the bean in their piece would be crowned king or queen for the evening.

I was not aware of any of the ceremony that was Epiphany until I spent time in France, and I must admit I was charmed and awed by this wonderful way of closing out the Christmas season. Whether you are religious or not, it helps to have the focus on moving forward and hoping for a better tomorrow, don’t you think? I felt it helped me understand more about the big picture.

We will be celebrating Twelfth Night at Rabbit Hollow with my traditional French recipe for the Galette des Rois or Twelfth Night Torte, which is in the Recipe Archives. I will enjoy a last look at the Christmas tree before it comes down, and reflect on the good things to come in 2012. I wish you and yours a happy start to this new year.

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