I am a product of my upbringing. The tales of root cellars where everything was preserved, my Grampa’s stories of living during the war when things were rationed, and the prevalence of farm culture from both my parents’ prairie life – all these elements combined with those Little House on the Prairie volumes in my head to make me thrifty in the kitchen.
Gramps used to say when I refused the last morsel, “Can’t be wasting!”, and I would capitulate. It was like referring to those starving kids in Africa. I often wondered, would they eat sandwich crusts?
This time of year is when we work to save and store. It’s the end of harvest of course, so it’s a mad dash to make sure as little is wasted as possible. Some of the bounty doesn’t get used – it’s impossible to eat it all, even when we share. But I am heartened when I remember my farmer neighbour’s words that everything going back to the ground helps the soil for the following year. Mother Nature provides.
We dried fruit and canned chutney and jam and made hot sauce and kimchi and infused vinegars and oils. I baked bread and pies and bread pudding. I roasted squash and tomatoes and put them in the freezer. my last effort is to plan menus for the next couple of weeks so we can use the last of the arugula, green beans and green tomatoes.
It can be exhausting. I have new admiration for the pioneer housewives and their fortitude in the face of such a daunting task: providing a variety of flavours for a household through a cold, dark winter. Before there were OXO cubes, Heinz ketchup and Classico pasta sauce, there were women who kept everyone from losing their minds over endless bowls of turnip soup and boiled potatoes with mutton.
Perhaps the return of Outlander on TV has given me my second wind… are there any other fans among my readers? If Claire could manage to survive in a kitchen-of-old, then surely I can do it too.
My inspiration this weekend is to use the last of the apples and some quince with my final trimmings from the mint to make a sort of preserve that I’d like to use for both sweet and savoury purposes. My plan is to make it on the sweet side, and then when I want to use it say, for roast pork, I’ll sauté some onions and add in the apple mint preserve with a bit of cider vinegar to get more of a chutney or Branston-pickly kind of condiment. (If anyone has any experience with a similar recipe, I’m all ears.) I shall post up the recipe once I’m happy with the result.
And perhaps I’ll make a batch of Millionaire Shortbread in celebration of the Outlander premiere on Sunday. Since Claire and Jamie will be in the New World, it seems only fitting that we encourage that spirit of entrepreneurship, don’t you think? (wink)
You know how sometimes life gets ahead of you? Good intentions trip you up and instead of checking items off your “to do” list you are mired in the weight of the list itself and spinning your wheels. I love to try new things and to share my excitement at new discoveries, but I have been caught in a hamster wheel for a while with things I told myself were “more important”. I was making excuses instead of getting organized.
But now I’m back, and I’m so glad I have this safe space to come back to. I still haven’t completed that list, but I did bake brownies today. And I feel so much better for it. It’s about following through, I discovered.
It seems so silly now that I’m here writing – I try to live not feeling guilty for indulging in life and yet that’s what stopped me from taking time to write or try new recipes. I felt guilty because I didn’t have everything done I thought I should do. Foodie heal thyself, right?
Okay, so I’m human. Today I took Ella for a walk and we decided we should stop by the local fruit market for ice cream. It turned out to be a rather nice fall day, and they will be closing soon for winter, so it was a “carpe diem” kind of inspiration. You know,
Eat ice cream, breathe the fresh air, shuffle in the leaves; for soon it will all be cold and white.
Root beer float and Tiger Tiger, on a waffle cone of course. I only ever eat Tiger ice cream in a cone. I have to say, the combination with root beer may be a new classic I want to lay claim to. It was like a key to a time warp that made me feel ten years old again. Living in the moment. Ella seemed to approve too, although her tastes are not very discriminatory when it comes to ice cream cone bottoms.
I felt a wonderful sense of pride and accomplishment seizing that beautiful moment. After all, I had spent the morning inside doing housework. I deserved a break. (And even if I hadn’t done housework, why not say “Yay me!” for making a memory?”)
The brownies didn’t get made until after dinner, since other tasks were prioritized. But they only took about 10 minutes to whip up, and then just 35 minutes in the oven. They were lukewarm when I cut into them to serve.
Hubbie was very happy I made brownies, and even happier when they showed up in a bowl with ice cream and a drizzle of caramel sauce and crushed toasted pecans. I was happy when I tucked my spoon in for the first bite and realized how gorgeously gooey and rich (not sweet) they were. Thank you, Sarah!
The thought did cross my mind as my spoon headed to my lips: “this is the second time I’m eating ice cream in a single day – and I only bothered to stretch today, didn’t even really work out!” I swallowed that thought with the bite of brownies – it was delicious.
So, there you are. I’m human. Not at all perfect. Completely fallible. But I can bake a good brownie with a little direction. And now that I have my momentum back, I may even come up with a variation on something or a new idea. Just watch me! Like my Dad used to say when I was trying to improve my clutzy basketball skills, “It’s all in the wrist.” One just has to follow through.
When the world falls away, what else can you do but pause a moment to think of your own little world?
We are in a haze at the moment, with smoke from forest fires to the west and the north drifting into our valley of paradise. Depending on which way the wind blows, the smoke hangs on one side of the valley or the other.
When I got up this morning, everything but our little domain had disappeared in an eerie sort of brownish fog. I could see the vegetable fields, and the farm market at the end of the street, but the town and hills beyond were gone. There was no sign of the lake and what was usually beyond seemed a figment of my imagination. In the air was the scent of ash, charcoal – like the melancholy smell that signifies the end of an evening bonfire.
I suddenly felt a rush of gratitude. Here I was walking casually with Ella, having just stopped to nibble berries from our bushes in the front yard. I watched the young crew picking cucumbers and zucchinis from the fields to be sold at the farm market. So peaceful. But with an underlying sense of foreboding.
I was struck later in the day too, by a story shared from someone I know of their recent tough family times. They were stoic, and gave the advice “Hug your loved ones. Hug them hard.” I was heartbroken for them in their difficulty and also inspired by their ability to carry on. Using love as a force in life, a way to sustain oneself, is quite possibly the best diet you can adopt.
I’m using today as motivation to focus even more on the value of my time to sit and share a meal. The simple moments around a table are the perfect time for us to soak in the love and be grateful for our blessings.
There but for the grace of God go I.
…if the person who invented fireworks was inspired by Mother Nature?
As I watered the garden today it occurred to me that it holds plenty of inspiration.
But there are many possibilities, both in individual blossoms and the entire plants as well as the landscape itself. There is no set design…
Mary, Mary, quite contrary
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells
And pretty maids all in a row.
It always seemed like a silly nursery rhyme to me; anyone can see that gardens don’t want to grow in a row.
Here’s to unruly blossoms that wave in the wind and gardens that inspire the child in all of us!
In a world where things move at 4G (or is it 5G now, I can’t remember) and there is a lot of non-stop noise, it’s nice to enjoy a slow and quiet moment. One of my favourite reasons for walking the dog is to have those kind of moments. Another way I take a deep breath is to spend time in my garden. The first method I discovered for stepping back from the fray was reading.
Today I stopped at the local Chapters to stock up on reading material. I do have books at home, but I was looking for inspiration, new information to broaden my horizons. I also have to manage my time and focus on priorities. I don’t know about you, but if I have a good book I have been known to disappear inside it for lengths of time. I can only allow shorter intervals right now, so having something that was of shorter duration was more practical. A few food magazines was just enough to do the trick.
Just buying the magazines put me in a state of euphoria. Choosing publications that offered something unique was important; I don’t need to read about 15 different variations on brownies or omelettes. I wanted something outside the box.
Scooping up the last few issues of Lucky Peach was important; if you haven’t heard of this periodical yet, unfortunately it’s almost too late. The offbeat and ingenious effort from Momofuku’s David Chang and Peter Meehan will be shutting down later this year. (I invite you to at least check out their website for brilliantly written pieces.)
I am a fan of foodie travel, and my current favourite on that front is Saveur. There used to be a similar magazine called Intermezzo which I loved, but I can’t find it anymore. (You have to roll with the punches.) I have learned of cuisines in faraway places, and ingredients I never knew existed. I have added places to my bucket list and filled my kitchen with aromas that had me transported across the world.
As a treat, I picked up a special edition on California wine, as we are travelling there in the fall. Not only will I have some new pairing ideas, I might find a few pit stops. After all, travelling is thirsty work.
Hiding in the back shelves was a title I hadn’t seen before, so I splurged and picked it up too. I love to know how things work and Milk Street is all about the how’s and why’s of a dish. It’s a new publication; I’ll let you know how I like it.
I suppose you could call this literary gluttony a guilty pleasure. There are many websites with foodie information, and articles galore on every topic imaginable. But there is something comforting in putting my feet up and flipping those glossy pages, pondering the delectable food photos as I sip my tea. I consider this akin to meditation, a time for my mind to wander at leisure with no agenda. As much as my workouts are important to stay in shape and my recipe testing helps with my writing, a bit of mental free time helps me find my ways to new ideas. Sometimes, like a walk with Ella where I let her decide the route, my mind will wander down its own path and find a solution to a challenge that doesn’t even involve food.
I read an article today about Paula Wolfert, a renowned cookbook author and icon in the world of food and restaurants. She has Alzheimer’s disease, and so not only does she not remember how to cook many recipes anymore – she also has lost much of her sense of taste. And yet, she is still working with food and with people who want to learn from her. (I can’t wait to read the biography of her that is coming out soon. If you’d like to read the article, it’s on my Facebook page. )
Reading Ms. Wolfert’s story reminded me that every moment counts. Even with a life rich in memories, we need to make every effort to live our best life in every moment. There is a zen saying:
Quiet the mind and the soul will speak.
I’d like my soul’s vocabulary to improve.