In a world full of trends, I want to remain a classic.
Being a foodie, I’m always on the hunt for new flavours, new combinations of tastes to create and share. But I was struck by an interview I heard recently with Nigella Lawson and Yotam Ottolenghi.
They spoke about the possible disservice done to us by having so many recipe options to cook. They keep publishing new recipes. We want to keep trying new things but then we never have a chance to perfect any one thing.
I will admit to falling into that pit. It can be fun to embark on a cooking adventure; but when I’ve had a few less-than-expected results in a row, I have felt discouraged. Chasing trends is a risky business.
I guess it’s like trying to wear those leg warmers when everyone is into wide leg pants. Or anytime the trend just didn’t work for you. No one needs more of that awkward feeling in their life.
When I’m feeling down, I look to set myself up for success. Before I throw in the towel and go for some kind of order-in comfort food, I look for a classic recipe I hardly need to look up to accomplish well.
Of course some of this is nostalgia. The recipes my Mom made week after week, the first ones I wrote into my now-weathered journal – those are often my go-to classics.
Mom and I have been chatting weekly since the first lockdown in March, and she reminded me of one childhood classic a few weeks ago. The reminder brought that taste top of mind, like a tickle in my nose.
And so, this week we had a classic snack with dinner. Our lovely BLTs showcasing the last few tomatoes and bit of arugula from the garden sat beside celery sticks with Cheese & Pimento. I even put the spread in one of my Dad’s handmade ceramic bowls with one of his carved wooden spreaders.
I have made all kinds of spreads, and I have dipped celery in plenty of flavours. I suppose you could argue that retro dishes have become somewhat trendy again, but this classic has been with me through its low points too.
Comfort food is a good thing. But a classic recipe gives us the chance to create a comfortable world, not just a comfortable meal.
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’.
Are you laughing? This is not a parody, like that infamous episode of Saturday Night Live with Betty White. (If you’re looking for a naughty giggle, go ahead and click. Otherwise, keep reading with a clean mind.)
My mom is not as old as Betty White, but she did spend lots of time in the kitchen and so I always thought she was an expert cook. She made cookies, cakes, pies, and even cream puffs, in addition to all the savoury dishes she prepared. But she only ever made one kind of muffin – bran muffins. In her defense, this was before the days of coffee shops that sold muffins in multiple flavours right beside donuts, and certainly before the trendy “muffin top” was developed. Muffins were meant to be a healthy snack when I was a kid. Bran muffins may have been overkill, but served warm with butter I thought they were okay with the raisins or dates she made sure to include. (Now that I think of it, Mom may have liked muffins more as a vehicle for butter than for the muffin itself, but no matter.)
Perhaps it was a subconscious twinge of nostalgia amidst the grey days of early spring, or maybe just a craving for more fibre, but I found myself searching the grocery aisles for bran this past week. It took me 4 stores to find wheat bran – is this a backlash to the gluten-free trend? I didn’t want to use processed bran cereal, just the plain old bran.
I made them this afternoon, and I plan to warm one up for breakfast tomorrow. I will watch the butter melt, and maybe add a wee bit more for the last bite the way I remember my mom doing. There is something so very “homemade” about the taste of these little morsels… the bran is excessively healthy, but the moist chewy sweetness of the dates always made for the perfect contrast. It was that special juxtaposition that made me feel like my mom really loved us – she didn’t punish us with super-healthy, yucky-tasting stuff, she made it yummy. (Childhood logic can be so blunt.)
My mom’s bran muffin recipe is simple enough, and I’m sure you can find something similar if not identical on the web. But I am including it in my list nonetheless, since this is a taste from my childhood. I did add one small Rabbit Hollow touch this time, using dried greengage plums instead of dates. I think my mom would be proud.