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Tastes and Colours of the season

orchard fall light

We’re in the heart of autumn. The days are shorter, the skies are greyer, but there is still a light from within the trees as they change colour. I wonder if the idea of undercarriage lighting came from brilliant yellow leaves on the grass in fall? The temperatures are cooler too, and so the flavours of the season are crisper and as a result.

In the spring, I enjoy the first green flavours from the warming sun – peas, baby greens, and asparagus all taste like new life fresh from the garden. In the summer, the longer brighter days allow for rich, luscious flavours and sweet aromas – peaches, tomatoes, and corn are decadent in their intense juiciness and complex flavours. In the fall, the bounty begins to diminish and I savour the squash and pears and plums.

I am lucky enough to walk through a veggie garden and fruit orchard every morning. I am trying hard to gather the last of the freshness before winter arrives. We have been drying herbs, pickling beets and peppers, making chutney and jam, drying mushrooms, and freezing all kinds of goodies.fall pearsToday I ate one of the last Bartlett pears still hanging on a tree, and I made a Plum Torte with the very last of the plums we had. I was wistful as I stood in the orchard, the floral perfume of the pear filling my mouth and the crisp bite lingering on my lips and the low rays of sunshine lighting the leaves.

The winter flavour for me is quince. The fruit are still on the trees now, awaiting the first frost before they reach maturity and show off an elegant lemony tang along with an exotic perfume that belies its gnarled exterior and rock-hard raw interior. But until then, I’ll make the most of the last of the bounty. If you can scrounge some plums, you can join me!

Plum Torte

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Happy May Day!

lily-of-the-valley_May Day

 

I wish I could say the Lilies of the Valley in my yard look this beautiful… I have the sunshine but the stems are just up, no blossoms yet. Still, I rejoice in their effort, their enthusiasm and when the blossoms arrive, the fragrance!

Lilies of the Valley are an ancient woodland flower, and have signified humility in religious works for centuries. Personally, they make me think of fairies and other magical things. It’s not surprising that they are a prized flower in a bride’s wedding bouquet – Grace Kelly had them when she became a Princess, and so did Kate Middleton when she became Katherine, Duchess of Cambridge.

Princess Katherine with bouquet

May Day is a phrase used by sailors to signify distress, and sometimes with the hectic nature of spring I admit that rings true. But there is another history to this day… in much of the Northern Hemisphere the first day of May was long a holiday celebrating spring. This tradition goes back to Celtic traditions of Beltane, which sat opposite the first of November, heralding the start of the autumn. As such, it was a joyous pagan celebration involving dancing, flowers and cake. (what’s not to like about that?!)

May 1 also became International Workers’ Day in Europe – was this perhaps in connection with the Christian traditions overtaking pagan rituals and more of a work ethic entering the collective psyche? I wonder…

maypole danceMy memories of May Day come in part from stories my Mom told of wrapping ribbons around the Maypole as a girl (perhaps a bit pagan, but awfully romantic, don’t you think?). Then when I lived in France I learned that a tribute on this special day was to give “muguets”, Lily of the Valley. Their pungent fragrance is so typical of spring, sensual and full of life. They are dainty blossoms on sturdy stems, as if to say, “We may look delicate, but we have the strength to carry on through storms and wind until the sun prevails.”

So, on this beautiful day, where I am surrounded by sun and blooming flowers and fresh-cut grass and bouncing animals, I wish you a Happy May Day. Here’s to the sun prevailing.

 

New Year New Food

new years start

With the end of the festive season and the beginning of a New Year I have resolved to try out new recipes on a more regular basis amidst my enjoyment of old favourites. My year is focused on balance and this is another way I am working to achieve that. Cooking is always a large part of the holidays and the entertaining of friends and family is much of why we say we indulge so heavily. How about enjoying the tastes throughout the year and spacing the indulgence over months instead of days? It would likely put us in a pleasant state of mind, as well.

“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relatives.”
Lady Caroline, Oscar Wilde’s A Woman of No Importance, act 2 (1893)

Yesterday I made a Twelfth Night Torte to mark the official end of Christmas celebrations, and later this week I’ll be making a salad I found in a recent Bon Appetit issue with a unique spice combination. Once I work out a few more times to work off the shortbread and wine from Christmas, I’m going to make a Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Upside Down Cake I saw from Pinch of Yum, a great food blog. I am excited to enter into the new year with new experiences in the kitchen, but I am not looking to reinvent the wheel. I want to set myself up for success, not try to create Boeuf Bourgignon on Monday and Sole Meuniere on Tuesday. Julia Child I am not.

One idea I have is to travel with my recipes. I’m thinking I’ll put up a map on Google and pin the countries whose recipes I have cooked. travel map for foodiesI’ll be a dining table traveller! My cookbook library is notorious for holding the secrets from all kinds of exotic places and many of the blogs and newsletters I follow have cool stuff too. Anyone out there have any favourites?

So, here goes nothing. Salad tonight will leave me room for popcorn at the movie (my husband and I have a standing date night at the local theatre on Tuesday, and this time of year we gear up for the Oscars.) Maybe tomorrow I’ll pick a book at random and see where it takes me for dinner!

cookbook library

… 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

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