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To Mumsy

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Today is my mom’s 70th birthday. This is the lady who first got me cooking in the kitchen and digging in the garden. I am proud to say that she is now enjoying her own adventures, having raised a family and made a career and created beautiful artistic environments in her many homes and gardens. She has travelled through much of Europe now, and the west coast of  America and Mexico. I’d like to go back to particular culinary memory though, that may have started it all.

Many years ago, my brother and I created a dessert for her birthday dinner. We wanted something that represented how elegant and classy we thought she was. It took more than a few magazines and cookbooks to find the right recipe (this is well before the internet, you see). Finally we decided on a Decadent Chocolate Mousse. My dad whisked her away for the day so that we could prepare. It took us many hours and almost every bowl and utensil she had, but we did it. The special glasses were filled with this wonderful concoction and we awaited the time to present dessert to the birthday girl.

My dad had made a lovely dinner, and after the dishes were cleared it was time. With as much pomp and ceremony as we could muster, we carried the glasses to the table and presented the mousse. I think there may have even been a sparkler. She oohed and aahed – we were pleased. So far, so good. Then came the tasting…. she took a bite and tasted, and I could see her thinking. She smiled at us and said it was delicious. Then she took another bite and began to chew. Chewing? Yes… “What are the crunchy bits in it?,” she said. “They’re really good,” she added (the sign of a great mom). I answered with utter confidence: “Oh, those are the coffee grounds. I’m glad you like it!” My dad chuckled. coffee and beans

It wasn’t until much later that it dawned on me – the recipe called for “2 tbsp strong coffee” but they meant brewed coffee, not coffee grounds. Well, I was only 12 years old, I didn’t drink coffee. My dad wasn’t home so my brother and I figured that “strong” meant heaping tablespoons. (Remember, there was no such thing as a Google search back then.) My mother, bless her heart, was not discouraging but rather adventurous even then. She appreciated our efforts and soldiered on to enjoy the dessert. She has said in later years that she really did enjoy it, and in fact has never had a mousse that she remembers as being as good. I love you, Mom.

The recipe we used has long since been lost in the many moves and purges of cooking magazines, but I have found a chocolate moussesuitable replacement which does still include the coffee: Decadent Chocolate Mousse. Both Julia Child and David Lebovitz have apparently used this recipe. Feel free to think outside the box and add something crunchy if you like! I’m going to make it for my mom the next time she comes to visit, as a belated birthday present.

 

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Kudos to the girls – in the kitchen and out

intl womens day - silhouettes

Today is International Women’s Day, and since women are such a big part of food and the kitchen it seemed only fitting I pay tribute. There are many women in my life who have helped and inspire me along my journey in life, not the least of which was my Mom. She started in the kitchen (perhaps because that’s where I always hung out!) and then her wisdom led me out to the garden, and then to the sky. Her encouragement has inspired me to discover many of my passions. Her love of being a Mom, at home for her family, is something I will always admire.

Mom - my hero

The women I have come to admire later in life are also people who are secure in who they are, proud of what they have to contribute. When I was growing up, I loved reading Ayn  Rand’s books (thanks, Mom 🙂 ) She was a strong woman who wrote about strong people with convictions and passion. I loved classic movies, and my favourite actresses were Katherine Hepburn and Lauren Bacall. They never let movie men push them around but they were elegant and sexy nonetheless.

Katherine Hepburn not inferior sex

"Your whole life shows in your face, and you should be proud of that."

“Your whole life shows in your face, and you should be proud of that.”

When I discovered my true passion in the kitchen, I was thrilled to read the story of Ina Garten, who jumped in and bought a specialty food store in the Hamptons because she wanted a change from a job at the White House, and fell in love with the place when she visited. She called her business The Barefoot Contessa, starting out with no formal training and learning every job. She developed recipes and started to cater.

click the picture link if you are interested to view Ina's cookbooks on Amazon

click the picture link if you are interested to view Ina’s cookbooks on Amazon

Years later, she wrote a cookbook. When I wrote my first cookbook, I sent her an email saying what an inspiration she had been. She replied, to my surprise and delight, saying she loved my book and wished me every success.

I love to share, and so people who do the same attract me. Alice Waters is a woman who wants to share food with the world, and make sure they appreciate not just the taste but the work of the farmer who produced it as well. It was through reading about her work at Chez Panisse in California that I learned of Slow Food for the first time. I heard her speak in Italy at Terra Madre last fall, and she is every bit the humble but formidable force of nature I expected. Her Edible Schoolyard Project is saving many kids from a life of ignorance about food and community.

Perhaps the perfect inspiration for me though, is Julia Child. Her passion for food was topped only for her passion for her husband, Paul – something I can totally understand. (Thank goodness I married a chef, so he doesn’t mind my foodie mentality.) Julia Child cookbook philosophyShe wanted to make great food something that was accessible for everyone; I love her distaste for the pretentious side of the North American restaurant industry. I love her common sense approach to life.

One of the things Julia espoused was that time around the table was precious and should be encouraged. I say three cheers for that philosophy! So, in honour of Julia and all the women who inspire others to do more, dream bigger, live larger, I offer you a simple recipe to share at the table sometime soon. Roast Chicken is something anyone can accomplish in the kitchen.

1970 photo of Julia Child during taping of her TV show. Photo by Paul Child.

Toast the women in your life that have inspired you. If you are a woman, perhaps you can think about who you might be able to inspire…

What is healthy food?

It’s the New Year. We’ve all made resolutions and many of them will be about food. Eating healthy is a topic that you see in the news, on the internet and even in restaurants. But what does eating healthy mean? Are we all marching to the same drummer on that idea? I would love to know your thoughts on this, because I must admit, I find it confusing…

I have often shaken my head about all the kinds of diets you can follow now; not only are there vegetarians, vegans, fruitarians, paleo and South Beach and Atkins people but then there are diet plans and supplements as well. Do you have to be on a diet to be healthy? Or does dieting mean that you are NOT healthy?

I started thinking about this blog post when I saw a post on Facebook from someone I follow.

butter

“Pass The Butter … Please. This is interesting . .. . Margarine was originally manufactured to fatten turkeys. When it killed the turkeys, the people who had put all the money into the research wanted a payback so they put their heads together to figure out what to do with this product to get their money back. It was a white substance with no food appeal so they added the yellow colouring and sold it to people to use in place of butter. How do you like it? They have come out with some clever new flavourings…. DO YOU KNOW.. The difference between margarine and butter? Both have the same amount of calories. Butter is slightly higher in saturated fats at 8 grams; compared to 5 grams for margarine. Eating margarine can increase heart disease in women by 53% over eating the same amount of butter, according to a recent Harvard Medical Study. Eating butter increases the absorption of many other nutrients in other foods. Butter has many nutritional benefits where margarine has a few and only because they are added! Butter tastes much better than margarine and it can enhance the flavours of other foods. Butter has been around for centuries where margarine has been around for less than 100 years . And now, for Margarine.. Very High in Trans fatty acids. Triples risk of coronary heart disease … Increases total cholesterol and LDL (this is the bad cholesterol) and lowers HDL cholesterol, (the good cholesterol) Increases the risk of cancers up to five times.. Lowers quality of breast milk Decreases immune response. Decreases insulin response. And here’s the most disturbing fact… HERE IS THE PART THAT IS VERY INTERESTING! Margarine is but ONE MOLECULE away from being PLASTIC… and shares 27 ingredients with PAINT. These facts alone were enough to have me avoiding margarine for life and anything else that is hydrogenated (this means hydrogen is added, changing the molecular structure of the substance). Open a tub of margarine and leave it open in your garage or shaded area. Within a couple of days you will notice a couple of things: * no flies, not even those pesky fruit flies will go near it (that should tell you something) * it does not rot or smell differently because it has no nutritional value ; nothing will grow on it. Even those teeny weeny microorganisms will not a find a home to grow.
Why? Because it is nearly plastic . Would you melt your Tupperware and spread that on your toast?
you used to have to squeeze the colour tablet into the margarine to turn it yellow.

you used to have to squeeze the colour tablet into the margarine to turn it yellow.


Isn’t social media a powerful communication tool?  I haven’t been able to verify all the details but you get the idea. Margarine may not be one molecule from plastic, but it really doesn’t attract flies. It was not created to feed turkeys however, but rather was commissioned by Napolean III in France in the 1860’s for use by the armed forces and lower classes, and was popularized during the World Wars with dairy shortages that made butter expensive and rare. Did you know that margarine was banned in Canada until 1948 when the Supreme Court of Canada allowed its sale in stores.

There are pages on Facebook dedicated to all kinds of eating. I enjoy one called 100 Days of Real Food which at least has fun showcasing a diet that contains no processed food for her family. I think if you’re going to cut anything out, even if it’s junk, you should still remember to keep your sense of humour.

I don’t need convincing that the natural state of butter is a better choice than the more processed substance called margarine. I like the taste; if I want something with less fat, I’ll use olive oil, thank you. But I’m not going to point and stare at someone buying margarine, either. So imagine my surprise to see this new trend announced in a New York Times article, a system in restaurants that denotes approval from a panel of nutritionists. It’s called SPE, which stands for a Latin phrase that means “health through food”, and they say the basis of their concept is great flavours. So far, so good, until they explain that butter and cream are ingredients they won’t include. Say what?? I’m  with French Chef Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin in New York, who says he doesn’t believe in demonizing ingredients. Or as Julia Child was known to say, “if you’re afraid to use butter, use cream”. I’ll close with another of her quotes that I think shows a healthy attitude and sense of humour:

The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.

this is as close as we get to diet food at Rabbit Hollow. It comes from the garden in the summer,

this is as close as we get to diet food at Rabbit Hollow. It comes from the garden in the summer.

Bon Appetit!

Here’s a great snippet in honour of Julia Child’s 100th birthday.
I loved the fact that she encouraged people to keep trying new things, but also that we shouldn’t be dismayed if a dish didn’t turn out perfectly. There are many videos of her cooking so many classics, but this is a great example of just how unflappable Julia was.
Cheers to you, Julia!

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