I work with food and wine. Much of why I do is because it is a passion to share good food and drink with others. I love to see people enjoying time around a table for a meal.
In the summer season much of what I do is helping cater large events, like weddings and corporate appreciation events. This is not a cozy dinner party, unless you can imagine fitting 150 people in your dining room. On top of that, we prepare fresh food on site from scratch and my hubbie (the chef) cooks slow food – southern style BBQ meat.
These events work out to about a 14 hour day, usually. Much of it is outside in the elements, since we live in a piece of Paradise – the Okanagan. Who wouldn’t want to celebrate an event in the summer here?
I don’t tell you all this to make me sound special – my work day in the catering world is a variation on the work day most people spend if they work in the restaurant industry. The irony is, at the end of those work days I don’t feel much like eating or drinking any of the fine food we prepared. I taste of course, all day long, but by the end of service when there is time to eat, I’m tired and just want to wrap up. (I also feel like if I sit down I might not get up again.)
Tomorrow is the first wedding of the season. Today I’ve got my ducks in a row, getting platters ready and double-checking all the little details. I planned out my layers of clothes to wear in our less-spectacular-than-usual spring weather. I have snacks loaded in my bag: a banana, energy bar, nuts and raisins, and lots of water. I’m good to go!
Every occupation has its hazards. I can be grateful that mine are only that my feet hurt, my muscles are tired and I don’t have the energy to eat wonderful food for a day. There is no need to feel sorry for me, that’s for sure. On top of it all, I get to share in the joy of some momentous occasions. That is worth missing a meal in my book. I go to bed knowing that I have helped make great memories.
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.Today 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!
When I was a kid it was common for my peers and I to be commandeered as helpers in the family garden. Some people just had window boxes to worry about, but my parents were always keeners and we rented a duplex with a yard. Our back car stall was converted to a veggie garden and that became my number one summer chore. I learned quickly that gardening was not for the lazy, but I also learned that fresh peas and beans and carrots that I helped plant and water and pick were much tastier and more fun to eat than store-bought items. There wasn’t a farmers’ market where I grew up, but I did learn about where food came from at an early age.
For the past five weeks I have been working with local chefs as part of a program that helps kids today learn how much fun food can be. Growing Chefs was started in Vancouver in 2005 as a way to transmit the knowledge and share the passion of chefs and growers to kids in urban settings. This is the second year for the program in Kelowna and classes in Comox and all areas of the Lower Mainland are participating as well. Last year over 120 volunteers helped 850 students to experience the fun of growing their own food.
In a regular classroom we can only do so much, so I hope that the spark has been ignited for these kids. Maybe they will ask a grown up to take them to a farmers’ market or stop at a fruit stand. Perhaps they will try growing plants in a patio pot or on a windowsill. Hopefully the flavours excited them enough to make them want to explore with their tastebuds too. Today we made salad dressing from scratch and had them choose ingredients from a salad bar we set up. I loved seeing them – some liked the taste of the dressing on mixed greens, others liked grated beets and carrots, and then there were some who liked the crunchy sunflower and pumpkin seeds. The best part was seeing almost the whole class excited about salad – imagine that!
At Rabbit Hollow this summer we’re going to explore the farm-to-table idea with families in some of our events. We will literally take ingredients from the farm to the table, picking them fresh and then working with them in our backyard kitchen and tasting them at the harvest table. Parents and kids will be encouraged (even pushed if necessary) to work together and play with their food. We hope they will find out that it’s more fun (and tastier) than opening a box from the freezer.
We can all do our part to contribute to a sustainable environment and a life eating real food. Simple things like visiting the markets in summer will open your eyes to local wonders, I promise you!
If you have kids, maybe we’ll see you at Rabbit Hollow this summer (just contact me if you want more information). If you are interested to volunteer for Growing Chefs you can check out their website; they also have great information on planting suggestions for the urban gardener. And if you’re just a big kid like me, then perhaps I’ll see you at one of the local markets or fruit stands. Check out Soil Mate if you are looking for places and ways to connect with fresh food in the Okanagan.
With the May long weekend just past, the “outdoor season” has begun. That means dinners on the deck and drinks on the lawn and hanging out in the sun. I enjoy time outside in my garden too, putzing away at picking veggies, weeding to keep things tidy and generally being at one with Nature. Sometimes it can be a bit much though… I don’t have many lazy days outdoors, but that is my own fault.
My most daunting task at Rabbit Hollow is to pull weeds – it seems every year we have a new species that wishes to be counted in the general population. I was perhaps over-exhuberant when we had a friendly neighbour turn over a section of the front yard, as it is a patch twice the size of our kitchen and with spring rain the weeds take firm hold. I exhausted any frustration I had about life in my hoeing and pulling of weeds. Then my sense of accomplishment was fulfilled as I planted row upon row of my wacky vegetables. By the end I had sprouting purple carrots, bull’s blood beets, rebel radishes and arugula all ready to reach for the sun. I flopped down on the grass very proud of my efforts, but longing for the days when they didn’t wear me out so much. This was, I remembered, only the first item on my full page to-do list.
After a few minutes respite, it was back to work so I pulled out the weed eater and tackled the two-foot high crab grass beside the garage. As the freshly cut bits of grass stuck to my legs and I smelled that aroma of dirt and grass, memories came flooding back to me as I walked along of childhood summers doing the garden chores. Ah, the peace of the days when having green feet and a tank top tan were the worst of your worries!
The next task was to mow the lawn, so I braved the ridicule of the neighbour across the road who has the deluxe riding mower complete with cup holders, and pulled out the extension cord to hook up our much more green electric model. I walked the yard enjoying the fresh air and seeing those newly cut rows of grass and then my wistful experience truly reached its pinnacle when just as I came to the end of the yard I heard that familiar sound of bygone days. I thought perhaps it was my imagination but no, sure enough a moment later the ice cream truck came toddling down the road with its carnival music blaring for all to hear. I was indeed thankful for another worthy break 🙂
There is something pastoral about a quiet day in the sun with Mother Nature and her creatures. I sat on the grass and slurped my popsicle, and soaked in every aspect of the moment. It does my soul good to watch Simon and Ella wrestle till they drop in the just-mowed grass, and to hear the birds chirp as they chase each other over the lilac trees. I am very grateful that we have a little corner all our own, and I much prefer those noises to the hustle and bustle of the city. For you city slickers, maybe a pot on the patio is enough to fulfill your gardening curiosity, and a visit to the farmers’ market in support of local growers is more your kind of thing. Ultimately, I think the secret lies in finding your own peace, a place where the world stops still for you so that you can just breathe it in and smile.
Today is the day we celebrate being Canadians. For 146 years we have existed as our own country, having come into our own from our British roots as a colony. We love to gather with friends and loved ones and enjoy the bounty we are privileged to have. We have BBQ’s and beach parties, we attend parades and fireworks shows and we might even wave a flag, in a polite manner, being Canadian.
As Canadians we enjoy a New World identity – we are a first world country with many rights and freedoms. But we don’t like to stand out or seem in any way aggressive; we are known more for apologizing than speaking out. Blowing our own horn is not something we do and so a day that is all about doing just that can be a bit awkward at times.
The good thing is that Canada Day encourages us to get just a little more
enthusiastic about flag waving and horn blowing. We deserve it; our forefathers earned us that right. We can navel gaze the rest of the year.
So, get out here and cheer for your country. Sing the anthem, wave your flag and applaud the fireworks and the parade. If you don’t know where to go to so these things, visit the ever-so polite website that has such info.
Happy CANADA Day!!