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Share kindness with a cookie

sharing a cookie

Today is World Kindness Day. I think every day should be World Kindness Day, but we have to start somewhere, right. One step at a time. So, I propose we start by sharing.

One of the easiest things to share is food. I know that in today’s world even that can be complicated, what with all the dietary restrictions and allergies. But the gesture of sharing is still a kind one, even if the recipient has to refuse the token. They don’t have to refuse the smile that goes with it.

My Mom used to say there wasn’t much a cookie couldn’t cure. Technology will argue that point; but if I have a bad day, I still feel better after I take the time to enjoy a cookie. If I can find someone to share the moment and maybe another cookie, so much the better.

Are you like me – certain kinds of cookies fit certain moods?

peanut butter criss cross cookies

 PEANUT BUTTER CRISS CROSS – for days when I feel like a dose of kid magic, that beautiful feeling of freedom and wonder you have when you’re a kid. There is something simple and nourishing about these squished rounds that make my soul sing.

 

cookie monster in bed happiness

TROPICAL DELIGHT – for when I want to “Sail Away” like in that old song, imagining that I’m at the beach or on the water, in holiday mode. These are particularly welcome in the dead of winter.

 

 

Dave Zen cookies

CHOCOLATE COOKIES – you know those days when you just don’t think you can get to the end unless you have a bit of chocolate? These are like a friend made into cookie dough. When your best bud isn’t available, these come to the rescue.

 

 

Maybe you aren’t so much of a sweets person? Not to worry, I have something for that savoury shortbread The Chef Insteadtoo. I always lean towards sweet treats for sharing a morsel, but SAVOURY SHORTBREAD that my hubbie, The Chef Instead makes is a perfect grown-up treat that’s good for one friend or many.

 

 

If, God forbid, you’re not into any kind of biscuit or cookie (it’s okay, we could still be friends) then how about sharing a pot of coffee or a bottle of wine? You can even “pay it forward” in the queue at Starbucks or Timmy’s. You could put something in the Food Bank donation box at your local grocery store.

Even if you’re reading this at the end of the day, you can still be a part of all this wonderful-ness. There is no expiry date on kindness. What do you say?

(I’m heading out to share my birthday cake from yesterday. I’m baking cookies tomorrow. I’ll report back on how they turn out!)

Food Tastes Better with Friends

Yesterday I spoke of comfort food, and how the company that shares the food sometimes has a lot to do with the comfort we get. I am often singing the praises of sharing a meal to bring people together. But what about the times when we eat alone?

You stand out as a solo diner.

I don’t want to say that eating alone can’t be enjoyable; sometimes people want to have quiet time to themselves. What I am referring to are the times when we yearn for company but don’t have any. Then food can taste bland and one can feel much less than nourished after the meal.

Having been a person that didn’t fit in to a group most of my life, I can relate to the loneliness of not being popular as a kid and I remember feeling afraid that I wouldn’t make any friends at school. I was lucky, and found some great companions. I never ate lunch alone.

Sometimes it is the food that heals, and other times it is the company who helps us move forward. In a world of reality TV that promotes singling people out, where the pressure to fit in is even stronger than in generations past, we need to have friends with whom we can feel nourished. Who says that can’t start by “paying it forward” and making a new friend?

Perhaps my teenage memories are why I was so struck by a piece I saw on CBS Sunday Morning today. This show of mostly heartwarming news is always inspiring, and I especially love the stories from Steve Hartman. Mr. Hartman took over for the delightful Bill Geist in delivering tales of everyday heroes that offer hope and inspiration, and today’s entry was no different. #WeDineTogether is a wonderful group of young people… see for yourself:

http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/starved-for-company/

I’d like to think this idea can spread, just like peanut butter and jelly in a sandwich. As Steve Hartman says, maybe the grown ups can learn just as the kids do. Perhaps we could extend the camaraderie from around the table to a philosophy of life. It’s just an idea.

 

 

Armchair Travelling in the Kitchen

 

I know I won’t have much sympathy when I finish this post by telling you I’m leaving on holidays in 2 days, but bear with me… I was thinking of friends we have made in past years on trips to Jamaica, and missing the trip we usually take there at this time of year. I decided to make something tonight in hommage to our love of the place,  its wonderful food and people, and our distant friends.

I don’t know if you have ever done this – revisit tastes from a great experience? You can’t expect to recreate magic that comes from being in a place, but it’s fun to remember and toast to a time when you lived life to the fullest. I love to share tastes with friends and family, too; it helps to round out tales you want to tell of your visit and put them in context even for those who weren’t there.

Tonight’s little appetizer was easy. FRIED PLANTAINS: take a few plantains and peel them like bananas. Slice them diagonally and toss in a mixture of thyme, allspice, salt and marjoram (oregano will sub in if you don’t have any). Pan fry in a cast iron pan with a generous amount of coconut oil till golden brown. Serve with Jamaican condiments such as tamarind chutney, jerk sauce or other spicy chutneys. This time it was just for the two of us, but I’ve done it for larger crowds and we’ve had just as much fun. Light beer or rum punch are perfect accompaniments, but a lighter white wine will work in a pinch.

 

If you have a chance to be a guest at such an occasion, perhaps it will inspire you to take a voyage. Or it will give you a real taste of the place, a chance to be an armchair traveller. There is no safer way to travel, yet the excitement can still be worthy of wanting to send a postcard or two.

kpl-7-mile-beach

Taken on Seven Mile Beach in Negril, Jamaica

 

How to make your own sunshine

This morning was grey and cold. It looked like a dreary day, a drastic change to yesterday’s glorious sunshine. I can handle the bleakness of winter in the sun, but I struggle when the clouds make me slouch and the wind howls. So, I took on a winter version of taking lemons and making lemonade…

When I need cheering up, I bake. This morning I needed something quick and comforting, a bit of winter sunshine. Luckily, I have an old favourite that does just the trick – Cornbread Jam Muffins ! Cornbread Jam Muffins Happy GourmandAs you’ll see if you click on the recipe link, this is something I tested on the hardworking cast and crews I worked with during my years in movie catering in Vancouver. If something can bring a smile to the face of a weary soul at the end of a week working outside in the cold winter rain, then I know it works. And I get to enjoy their smile as well as my own when I taste one!

Muffins are listed in cookbooks as “quick bread” for a reason – they are simple to mix, and don’t take long to bake. If you planned just a little, these could cook while you were in the shower and the coffee was brewing. Extras freeze easily and can be reheated in a toaster oven (microwaves tend to make them tough, but if that’s your method, stick to under 15 seconds for best results).

Even if you save this recipe for a day off, I guarantee they will cheer you up. Go ahead and customize them if you like (the recipe includes a savoury variation, or you can make them without jam if you prefer; they even work if you substitute gluten-free flour). Sharing the goodness of these little gems will give everyone a good start to the day.

As I write this, I notice the sky has cleared a bit over us and even the grey skies over the lake look less menacing. I am breathing deeper and a smile is creeping across my lips. It appears my little dose of sunshine worked its magic quite well!

rabbit-hollow-winter-view

 

 

Happy St Nicholas Day

st nicholas Happy Gourmand

In many European countries The Feast of St Nicholas is the start to the holiday season. Do you know, the real St. Nicholas was a Bishop in Turkey in the 4th century, a particularly generous man who was especially devoted to children? His popularity increased to such a point that by the 12th century, he had become a Patron Saint in most European countries and a church holiday was created in his honour, one that became known for gift-giving and charity. The tradition of hanging Christmas stockings was apparently started because St. Nicholas helped out three young ladies whose father had squandered the family fortune after the death of his wife. This prevented the girls from having dowries and being able to marry. St. Nicholas wanted to help them anonymously, as was his custom, and so he rode his white horse to the nobleman’s house and dropped gold coins down the chimney, where they were caught in the stockings hanging by the fire to dry.

Were you aware that mistletoe has been a symbol of winter celebrations since Druid times, before the time of Christ? It was said that ancient Romans would lay down their weapons if they encountered an enemy under a branch of mistletoe. The Celtics believed it had magical powers and could ward off evil spirits, and the Scandinavians included it as a symbol for their goddess of love. It is thought that this link is the beginning of the custom of kissing under the mistletoe. This act is said to give those lucky kissers good fortune in the coming year. (I am proud to be from such sociable roots!)

Here’s another one for you… poinsettias are another giving gesture for the season. Legend says a small Mexican boy heading to the nativity scene in his town realized he had no gift for the baby Jesus. So, he gathered green branches that were by the side of the road. The other children teased him but once the branches were laid in the cradle, red, star-shaped flowers appeared on the end of each branch.

There’s more! Candy canes were invented alongside Christmas trees, but there is a bit of a twist to this story (full pun intended here). Cookies and candies were used to decorate the first Christmas trees, Apparently it was a choirmaster at a cathedral in Cologne who suggested twisting the plain sticks into the shape of a shepherd’s crook. This not only made them easier to hang on the tree, but it also provided a treat for children. It became a custom to hand candy canes out to children at church ceremonies across Europe, to help keep them quiet. And I really can’t resist – I have to tell you that there is another ironic twist to this piece of history: it was another man of the church who automated the process of making candy canes – Catholic priest, Gregory Keller.

I am sure you see the running theme here…that the season seems always to be about sharing with others. Whether you share your wealth, your generosity of spirit or the fruits of your labour, the result is all the same: we are all better for it. So, in case the aforementioned ideas don’t do enough for you, here is my bit of sharing for this week – one of my favourite recipes for Christmas, Shortbread Cookies.  My brother and I used to both help my Mom make and decorate these cookies; great discussions sometimes went into the decorating details. My Mom placed the completed cookies in the oven like they were works created by Michelangelo.

If you don’t have someone to help make these cookies, give some away to friends or colleagues – they are a bit different than the usual shortbread but still melt in your mouth. Decorate them with candied cherries, chocolate chips, sprinkles, coloured sugar, almonds… as inspiration strikes you. If you feel you have overindulged leading up to the holidays and can’t eat them all, then feel free to share!

BROWN SUGAR SHORTBREAD

1 cup Butter

½ cup Brown sugar, firmly packed

½ teaspoon Vanilla extract

2-1/4 cups Flour

½ teaspoon Almond extract (optional)

 

Preheat oven to 325F.

Cream the butter and sugar in a medium bowl until fluffy. Add extract(s) and mix well. Add flour ¼ cup at a time, saving ¼ cup or so for the rolling.

Divide the dough into 4 equal portions. Place one portion on a well-floured surface. Pat it down and turn it over. Roll out to 1/4-1/2 inch thickness. (Do not roll too thin or the cookies will burn; thicker cookies will be even more “melt in your mouth”.) Cut into desired shapes and place on ungreased cookie sheet. (If you have a silicone baking sheet you can still use that on the pan.) Decorate cookies and bake for approximately 12 minutes or until golden. Store in a sealed cookie jar.

 

NOTE: If shortbread is not your thing, check out my blog’s recipe archives for other ideas.

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