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I Feel Like a Million Bucks!

This time of year is when I really feel like I deserve a treat. With the cold wind blowing during my walks with Ella this week I must have burned extra calories.

Sweets offer us a boost in energy. Numerous ingredients gives a combination of flavours and benefits. A decadent dessert is comfort food on steroids.  Therefore, making Millionaire Shortbread  is completely justified. What is Millionaire Shortbread, you ask? Let me tell you…

Martin and I discovered this wonderful dessert in Scotland a few years back. We were there in March img_4806and it was bone-chilling damp cold (I don’t know how kilts can keep anyone warm in that kind of weather!)

We ducked into a cozy cafe in Edinburgh after having visited the Surgeon’s Hall Museums at the Royal College of Surgeons.
(It might sound creepy, but this place is well worth the visit if you are in Edinburgh, full of interesting exhibits and amazing facts. ) img_4807Amidst the aromas of black tea and coffee in the cafe we spied a row of squares among the usual pastries, layered and elegant. Once I saw the name I knew we had to sample one.

 

I can’t find any information on where the name Millionaire Shortbread comes from – it must be just because the layering of shortbread, caramel and chocolate all in one bite makes you feel like you’ve struck it rich.img_4811-copy

I didn’t get the recipe from the cafe, and the ones I found needed tweaking so I added my own Scottish-Canadian twist. They aren’t hard to make, all they take is a bit of patience as the layers set. While you wait  I recommend thinking of with whom you will share them, as they are addictive and one really is sufficient.

Once you have settled in with your hot beverage and squares of decadence, you might want to continue the Scottish theme. There are many topics of discussion – one of my favourites is the Outlander series of books, written by Diana Gabaldon – which have now also become a TV series. (If you’ve been in a hole and haven’t heard of Outlander, these stories tell the tale of the love between a post-war nurse and the Highlander she meets when she tumbles through time to the 18th century. Their love stands not only the test of time but also numerous historical events.) What better way to while away an afternoon with a friend than to muse on possible alternate lives and love that transcends all obstacles?

By now you are probably thinking I’ve gone overboard, but that’s because you haven’t tasted Millionaire Shortbread. Just go make some. Then you’ll know what I mean.

 

Springing Up!

I am just back from a vacation to a sunny clime, and I am now home to mud and mostly grey skies.In this environment I look for every scrap of inspiration I can find. Today was my lucky day.

It started out as another grey day.Ella and I walked through the remaining snowy patches amidst the mud and other slippery bits in the orchard (those Canada Geese can be messy creatures). We slipped around as we worked our way home; I endured what I call the swampy smell of pre-spring and Ella revelled in the many earth-borne smells, her nose on overdrive.

The clouds broke this afternoon and the sun proceeded to warm everything, including my sense of gratitude. I wandered out with the dogs to let them get some fresh air and I breathed deep, too. In the brighter afternoon light I could see the new shoots all around…

Crocuses are always some of the first to break ground

Can you see the pussywillows in the foreground?

 

It felt easier to breathe, with the sun and the greenery. The dogs lifted their noses and seemed to fill them up with scents. Usually we walk later in the afternoon but today I decided to seize the moment. I put on my brand-new muck boots and grabbed Ella’s collar and leash. I figured we would see just how spring was advancing.

Ella is a great companion any time of year, but when I am in my winter doldrums she is a wonderful boost to my soul. Her enthusiasm with fresh smells and small puddles is completely infectious. She searches out every new shoot to sniff it out, and every little puddle is worth at least a step – usually more of a splash. The way she bounces into the mud and smiles back at me makes me smile – how can I get mad at such boundless joy?

It was in watching Ella one day on our expedition up the road that I first discovered the wild watercress in the ditch. Now it’s a race for us both to find our spots in the spring – her to splash in the mud, and me to harvest. It takes triple washing at home to make it ready to use, but the peppery flavour and fresh juicy crunch is worth the work. Long before I can harvest any wild lettuce, these leaves are ready to enjoy.

Today the leaves were just barely above the ground, but that’s okay. Every leaf gave me hope. On the way back home I tried to limit the muck damage – I said to Ella, “Try to stay out of the muck”; she trotted squarely through a tire rut full of muddy water and gave me a big grin. All I could do was chuckle.

 

My thanks go out to Diana Gabaldon and her character Claire Randall Fraser, who prompted me to look for wild herbs and plants. (All those Outlander books are sexy but also informative.) Props also to L.L. Bean, who make the best muck boots ever. My last pair held on for 10 years of our daily walks, and I’m excited to rack up the miles on my new ones. But most of all my gratitude is for my Brown Girl, Ella. You can say what you want about having four-legged friends – quality time with a creature so intent on loving life is good for the soul.


 

 

A Balanced Recipe 


I bought this sign today as an early Valentines’ Day present for my hubby. Since we will be on holiday that day I showed it to him right away. He thought it was cool, but after he read through it his first words were (and I kid you not), “What about sex?!” What can I say, he is a guy. And, he’s a chef. His argument was that recipes should be balanced.

Putting aside the fact that the sign was likely made for a more family-friendly application, I do agree that if “romance” is included then sex is a logical ingredient  to add in the mixture.

I suppose you might be asking that age-old question posed by Harry and Sally: “Can men and women be friends?” That of course is at the essence of the discussion.

Ultimately, my hubby is right. (Don’t tell him I said that.) It’s all about balance. If you can manage the sexual tension that exists on a primal level then you can probably have a successful friendship for a long time, just like Harry and Sally did. But eventually, you have to deal with it – just like you have to deal with the cake batter that overflows the pan in the oven or the grill that flares up and burns your steaks. Nothing is entirely predictable.

Love, and life, do have recipes, but just like anything else you’ll search on the Internet these days you’ll find there isn’t only one. It’s the balance that makes the recipe work. Flavours of sweet and sour, sweet and salty, bitter and sweet, and even umami – that earthly sensation that fills you up – need to be considered. Any good cook knows that recipes are altered with the seasons, as fresh ingredients import different intensities of flavour and corresponding spices need to be adjusted. If you’re fortunate, like me, you find your soulmate and the scales are easier to tip in your favour. When you both know each other and trust each other implicitly, it’s like a a tried-and-true recipe you’ve made plenty of times: you don’t need to measure anymore and it always turns out just fine. Maybe not exactly the same every time, but just fine.

I’m not trying to say there is no happiness for people who don’t have a mate. There are friendships that transcend the earthly confines of traditional relationships – sometimes with siblings, or long-standing friends – even long distance friends. The connection one feels with that kind of friend has the same kind of magic as an intimate relationship can have. I do believe we all have the opportunity for that kind of connection. It’s out there, just keep on cooking and you’ll find the right recipe. Eventually, you will find the combination of ingredients that works for you. As Harry said,

…when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.

Here’s to the rest of our lives.

 

For the love of food

loving food

Valentine’s Day is one of those events that tends to elicit strong emotions in people, and not always positive ones. It has possibly become the worst example of a commercialized holiday, and it tends to favour couples relentlessly, leaving single people in a funk. I for one think this is a sentiment that is better expressed any day of the year, not as a scheduled event. Send your lover fl0wers when they are in season, not when an industry decides the flower to send (roses) is one of those at its peak in pricing. Go out for dinner when it suits you, not when the restaurants pack people in and those people look to organize a romantic event in a busy room with a planned menu that hopes to make up for serving too many people at once.

So, as a small gesture in protest, I say “stuff it!” Enjoy the person, or the things, or the situations you love on this day – and don’t worry about fitting into the marketing plan. If you want to eat chocolate, I just posted my recipe for Brownies. classic brownies Happy GourmandIt’s a classic I’ve used since my teen years and it’s worked for everything from romantic nights to break-up binges. If you are more of a savoury person, how about thinking outside the box? My husband Martin submitted a Jerk Chicken recipe to a local radio that chooses winners weekly to inspire people to cook in their kitchens. We love Jerk Chicken because it reminds us of a fave holiday spot, Jamaica. Maybe you want to turn the heat up and eat in your bathing suit?

Life is about enjoying the moments – how does that saying go?

Life is not measured by the breaths we take, but rather by the moments that take our breath away.

Whether that is cooking for someone, or with someone, or eating with someone, or while thinking of someone… any variation will work. We have to eat, we might as well enjoy it. Our memories link an experience to a taste, so let’s make sure we can link as many smiles as possible.

Happy Valentine’s Day. May your heart be happy in whatever you do today.

May Your House and Hearth Be Blessed

At the start of a new year we all like to make a fresh start and ensure that we are on the best footing for our new adventures. There are traditions for housewarmings, offering blessings for those in new homes making a new life. It seems to me that doing the same thing for a new year is a good idea, so I thought I would list out some of those traditions for you, based on the sentiments. Many of these stem from the two sides of my heritage (the Scots and the Scandinavians), who gave gifts in the dead of winter to share good spirits and reinforce the community.

housewarming basket

GOOD HEALTH – Olive oil represents health and well being, and is a wonderful blessing for the kitchen. Spices also symbolize diversity and excitement in life. A potted plant (especially herbs) symbolize life and energy.

PROSPERITY, ABUNDANCE – Bread symbolizes sustenance and usually goes with the blessing “so your house will never know hunger”. Salt has meant luxury throughout time and can be given with the blessing “that your life will always be full of flavour”.

LOVE, STABILITY –  Coins symbolize good fortune; it is said to be important to include a coin in a wallet given as a gift and also with the gift of a knife, so as to ensure your friendship is not cut by the blade.

GOOD CHEER, SWEETNESS & LIGHT – Wine and spirits symbolize good cheer in many cultures which tends to go with joy and prosperity as well. Honey symbolizes the sweetness in life well and a connection with nature. A candle represents the light of life and warmth, especially in dark times.

There are also items that help us keep away the negative things, like bad luck or evil spirits. A broom is a good gift to sweep out any bad omens as well as keeping a house clean.

Homemade items are always a welcome gift, not even requiring wrapping. Sharing your own food (and culinary talents) is a beautiful symbol of friendship and community. Fostering those relationships always brings good things, to the recipient and the giver. If you’re stuck for a recipe, try my Banana Bran Muffins.

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