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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.

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Chocolate and Nuts, in a New Way

Chocolate and peanut butter. Some people aren’t crazy about the combination, but most North Americans love it. It could be argued that this is the best example of a truly original American taste.

Did you know that Mr. H.B. Reese invented the chocolate covered peanut butter cup? Yes, there really was a Mr. Reese. And guess what? He worked for Hershey’s before he left to create his own candy company in the 1920’s. Apparently the one condition Hershey’s had for him when he left was that he buy all his chocolate from them. How about that!

Even today, almost one hundred years after this unique confection was created, it is still the best selling candy in America. Hershey’s bought the company in the 1960’s but the Reese name still sticks. Even the increase in people allergic to peanuts has not slowed their popularity.

I am a big fan of chocolate and peanut butter together. Peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips are more than a bit better, they are close to nirvana. Chocolate peanut butter ice cream, if well made, should probably be illegal. But I had never made an actual candy with chocolate and nut butter.

To be fair, the recipe I used was for cashew butter with chocolate. It’s good, but next time I’m going to use peanut butter. My brain tasted the finished product and I could hear it saying inside my head, “it’s fine, but it would be just that much better if it was the real thing.”

I’ll let you decide. Perhaps you are allergic to peanuts. Since cashews are a tree nut, they might be a good alternative. You can easily leave out the pomegranate seeds in this recipe, too – add dried cranberries instead if you like, or nothing. Power Bark is good even if you make it with just the chocolate and the nut butter. Just sayin’.

 

New Month, New Start

Today is May Day, a celebration in many parts of the world – some countries have made it a workers day, and others have it as a celebration of spring, an evolution of pagan festivals such as Beltane. I am always struck by nature’s timeline on this day, perhaps because I live in Canada where the winter weather likes to linger.

It seems this year I am leaning more to the other side of May Day’s meaning – I need help to get out of my winter funk. I was in the garden this morning with my fingers in the dirt and that was a good tonic but wearing two woolly layers and still having my gumboots dampened my mood, if you’ll pardon the pun. My Lilies of the Valley have come up, but are far from blooming yet this year, so there will be no real “Fête du Muguet” for me.

The naval term “mayday” was created in 1923 by a British radio operator who came up with an easily recognizable phrase (he was inspired by the French “m’aider”, meaning “help me”). It is repeated 3 times when calling for help, to make sure everyone hears it correctly. It seems to me that wouldn’t be too hard in disastrous situations; one has a tendency to shout and repeat things. When the clouds get low and the wind blows day after day I feel like I should run out in the yard and send out this call.

I suppose a better way to deal with our long winter is to engage in the celebration of moving forward, though. I flipped the calendar pages and I will be planting the last of my greenhouse seedlings today. I will bake a pound cake to signify the sweeter time of summer with sunshine and warmth. (Historically, this was when grazing animals were put out to pasture to feed on the wild grasses and flowers, making butter and milk richer and more flavourful.)

I’ve always wanted to dance under a Maypole, but that will take some more work. There is something romantic and wistful about maidens in flowing dresses dancing with ribbons barefoot in the grass. Maybe I’ll put together a fairy garden. No one will notice if I tiptoe out tonight to dance with the little ones and have my own Beltane ritual.

The Fairy Dance (1875) – Richard Doyle

Being a Good Steward of the Earth

Ah, Spring! Blossoms abound, and the buzzing of bees and twittering of birds are hard to ignore. It is a time when most of us feel happily connected to the earth. The days are getting longer and the landscape gets greener. Really, what’s not to like? But are we truly connected to the planet? Do we understand what helps keep the planet healthy? Perhaps it’s a good idea that we have Earth Day on April 22 to remind us to be responsible planetary citizens.

Did you know that Earth Day has been around since 1970? A U.S.  senator first launched the idea – he wanted to bring attention to the environment after seeing the effects of an oil spill in California. He capitalized on the enthusiasm of student protests from the late 1960’s, and organized a group to promote events across the nation. There were 20 million Americans in the streets on April 22nd that first year in support of a healthy, sustainable planet. In 1990 the program was taken to the world, and Canada was one of the nations to adopt it. Almost thirty years later we are still working to maintain our environment.

Natural food has always been at the heart of the environmental movement, not just because of nutrition and eating seasonally and locally but also now with the affects of chemicals on animals, soil and air. Talk of bees and other pollinating creatures being at risk due to changes in our environment add another layer of danger to our natural world.

Can I plant enough wildflowers to help the bees win their battle? Can I convince enough children that they can make a difference if they eat a fresh apple instead of processed applesauce made across the world, or have homemade salad dressing instead of something in a bottle with added preservatives and sugar?

I spend time with kids in my volunteer work, both through Girl Guides and the Farm to Fork education programs in which I take part. Kids are aware of being responsible about recycling and not wasting energy, but they are also used to consuming processed packaged food and using all kinds of products to make life easier.

Products and packaging end up in the earth through landfills or sewers, despite the bits that gets recycled. Sometimes I wonder if we haven’t just adapted through technology – we have more ways to be earth-conscious, but we consume more stuff so we just recycle more. I am grateful for the sincerity and enthusiasm the kids have. It gives me hope to see their passion for our planet; they want to make it a better place.

Is Earth Day one you will mark on your calendar? Do you feel you make an effort towards having a sustainable planet? I remember 1990 – I was in the bicycle business back then, and the shop I managed was very keen to promote cycling as a clean mode of transport. I met a guy named Dave who became a guru for many of us at the shop. He was trying to live a pure life, he said, getting in touch with Nature. He wore hemp clothing, and was a vegetarian.

The most striking thing about Dave was the aura of peace he had. He wanted to be your friend, to hear what you were about. He thought if we could all just slow down and take the time to hear each other’s stories that perhaps we could find common ground where we could live in harmony. We called him Dave Zen.

A few years later I left the bike business and Calgary and I lost touch with Dave Zen. I have often wondered over the years what became of him. I imagine him in a community somewhere, a sort of co-operative where people have found the secret to a long and happy life. When I spend time with the kids, sometimes I see the same glimmer in their eyes that I saw in his, and that makes me smile.

So, in honour of Earth Day, my recipe this week is one from Dave. It may look overly healthy and you might be suspicious as a result, but trust me, Dave Zen Orbit Oatmeal Cookies are truly awesome. They taste the best when you eat them outside in the fresh air 🙂

Easter is a wonderful occasion

There is so much about Easter that is beautiful. It is truly a turning point. Spring has sprung and there is new life bounding in the fields with baby animals and new plants. Lent has ended and Easter Sunday is a day of feasting, with chocolate and sweet breads and a groaning table of delicacies, shared with family and friends.

Here at Rabbit Hollow, family is over the mountains and most of our friends are across many miles (some are even on the other side of an ocean). As such, we give thanks for their love and toast their good health and happiness. We always have a feast of our own – this year our homemade “Lamb Jam” and garden beets pickled with star anise were well suited for the succulent lamb chops my hubbie prepared

Cheers to Cedar Creek Winery – their Platinum Malbec was delicious with the tangy plum chutney and beets that accompanied the lamb.

with roasted asparagus and market potato wedges. And then there are the extras…

  • I wanted to do some baking, so bunny cookies were the order of the day. I used Anna Olsen’s cardamom sugar cookies as an inspiration. My tweaked version of her recipe will be added to the archives this week, under Easter Bunny Cookies.

  • we were spoiled by a certain motherly figure who used modern technology to contact our favourite pastry chef, Sandrine. Dessert was the perfect end to the holiday weekend.

The background doesn’t do it justice but the Paris-Brest was divine, and the chocolate mousse cake was perfectly decadent


I have to admit, it was a bit lonely visiting the market by myself this weekend and baking cookies alone in the kitchen; not to mention hunting for chocolate eggs all by my lonesome self (well, except for Ella’s help). However, I am truly grateful to know I have such wonderful friends across the world. Thanks to technology I was able to chat online with many of them, and I hope to see them soon.

I hope you shared love as well as chocolate this weekend. Here’s to a new season, full of sunshine and good feelings.

Even Ella and her new stuffie were popped after a hard day of hunting and baking. There was nothing left to do but bask in the sun…

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