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?
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:
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.
I love special days, holidays. At their root, all of them involve food in some way. It’s fun to explore special foods and traditional dishes, especially in the ambience that surrounds such a day. The other part of these days is the social celebration. Gathering together to share the food and the spirit of the day is essential to the fun. What’s not to love about all that?
I am not so much a fan of commercial efforts to popularize a holiday; green beer, for example, is not my thing. It’s not an Irish tradition to have green beer on St. Patrick’s Day, but rather a Guinness or other Irish brew. I like the opportunity to try the local specialty. Even as a kid I was not a fan of the then-trendy Shamrock Shake at McDonald’s.
Some say that it’s a travesty to bastardize tradition by commercializing the essence of a holiday, but sometimes there are benefits. In the mid-70’s McDonalds used some of the proceeds from Shamrock Shake sales to fundraise with the Philadelphia Eagles. This not only benefited the child of one of their players but also helped to create the Ronald McDonald Houses.
St. Patrick’s Day food is all about the meat and potatoes. Corned beef and cabbage is a popular dinner, as is colcannon (a combination of mashed potatoes and cabbage) usually served with lamb or even sausages. There is traditional bread too – brown bread and soda bread. I find it a bit filling to have potatoes and bread at one meal, so I like to have soda bread for breakfast. It would be delicious with Beef & Guinness Stew as well, though. The stew takes a bit of time to make, but it’s worth the wait.
Ultimately the best part of St Patrick’s Day is to share one’s good blessings with a friend. Even if you only get down to the local pub for a green beer, you can at least enjoy that fraternal sentiment. In case you’re not familiar with an Irish toast, here is an easy one to use: “Sláinte”. (That’s “cheers!” in Gaelic, pronounced “slancha”.)
One last bit of advice before you head out, from the Irish themselves:
Saint Patrick was a gentleman,
Who through strategy and stealth,
Drove all the snakes from Ireland,
Here’s a toasting to his health.
But not too many toastings
Lest you lose yourself and then
Forget the good Saint Patrick
And see all those snakes again.
Time to get down to business. Sunday is Oscar night and I have appies to plan. This post will be a bit of streaming consciousness, as I figure out what will work this year. You see, in a household where movies are such a lynch pin, Oscar night is a great opportunity to honour that.
Setting aside the politics of the broadcast, we join in the festivities and do our best to honour the movies we enjoyed through the past year, whether they are on the nominations list or not. Our food theme works to coincide somehow with the movies. So let’s begin with a recap of who’s up for Best Picture:
- Hacksaw Ridge
- Hell or High Water
- Hidden Figures
- La La Land
- Manchester by the Sea
We can literally go all over the map this year – movies that take place in the northern and southern United States, west coast, east coast and south coast, in Europe and India, involving African American and Caucasian culture. I suppose I could even interpret what aliens might eat. Ooh, the adventure of it all!
So, sticking with alphabetical order, here is my brainstorm…
ARRIVAL – something ethereal, perhaps, to go along with the theme of other-worldly creatures… like a meringue!
FENCES – this one is easy, if you saw the film. More than a few sandwiches are consumed in this movie. Middle class sustenance at its best.
HACKSAW RIDGE – since this is a war film, I thought a play on rations would be fun – how about a homemade chocolate “bar”?
HELL OR HIGH WATER – I could go with biscuits to play on the good old south setting, but I’d rather have fun with the title – hot wings it is.
HIDDEN FIGURES – let’s take from the church picnic and riff on those flavours – no fried chicken needed, but sweet potato cubes wrapped in bacon are good comfort food.
LA LA LAND – I can’t help it, I have to do some fish tacos. Sorry, Ryan Gosling.
LION – more bold flavours to represent the characters in this film. I have a wonderful curry yogurt dip that will be nice with some veggies.
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA – here’s the chance to add some kind of seafood to the menu. A lobsgter roll would be good, but we already have fish tacos. Some garlic butter prawns would be lovely, though.
There we have it – a menu. Nine nibbles should keep us satiated. We still need beverages though, and there are some other films I want to recognize from 2016.
THE JUNGLE BOOK – not a new film, but newly done. The animated Disney version was one of my favourites as a kid, so a coconut cocktail is in order.
DOCTOR STRANGE, DEADPOOL, FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM – all of these films offered exotic and fantastic effects and storylines. Here are a few colourful drink ideas:
- Sangria – mix 8 parts fruity red wine, 1 part peach schnapps, 1 part triple sec, the juice of half a lemon, half a lime, and half an orange. For real authentic sangria, add slices of citrus and chunks of apple or other tropical fruit in the mix to soak for a few hours or even overnight. Serve over ice for your basic colourful drink.
- Blue Monday – mix 2 oz vodka, ¼ oz triple sec, ¼ oz blue curacao in a shaker with ice and strain into a fancy glass. Serve with a lemon twist. (Feel strange only if you want.)
- the Matador – like a margarita with a twist, this concoction of tequila with 1/2 lime and 1/2 pineapple juice is both refreshing and exotic. (Chase wild animals only if you drink water in between refills.)
- Mike’s Full Moon – pour in a glass with ice: 1 part Mike’s Hard Lemonade, 1 part Blue Moon beer. Garnish with lemon. (Howl at will.)
- Death in the Afternoon – (Hemingway’s favourite drink is for Ryan Reynolds, but it is not named lightly so beware drinking anything after this) Pour a jigger of absinthe in a champagne glass and top up with champagne so that it reaches an opalescent colour.
We have the makings of a good party here. I have some work to do to get ready, but I’m looking forward to a fun evening. I may even dust off something fancy to make it official.
You might think I’ve gone off my rocker, doing so much for such a superficial event. Consider it more of a serious effort to have a lot of fun. Everyone will be a winner around our table, no matter what Jimmy Kimmel does.
When I was a kid, I spent time in the kitchen with my Gramps. He was my first babysitter, and the first one to help develop my tastebuds, so needless to say we were good pals. I learned quickly to decipher many of Gramps’ expressions… thingamajigs, and whatchamacallits mostly. In context, and especially with a child’s brain, it was easy to know that he meant he wanted the particular tool for the job – a wooden spoon to stir a pot of something, or a can opener… We managed just fine with our shared language.
As I got older, I learned expressions, too. These ones I use to this day:
Six of one, half dozen of another.
One horse, one rabbit. (that one is still my favourite; much more unique than the first even though they mean the same thing. I mean, literally “the same thing”.)
I think all this expressive talk throughout my upbringing was meant to prepare me for cooking old-fashioned recipes. Have you ever come across some of the terms cooks of old use? For example, my marmalade recipe calls for “a nob of butter”. Just how much is a nob, you are probably saying?
Well, thanks to Google almost anything has some information listed but as I learned to cook I had to do more sleuthing. It seems that whether you spell it with a k or not (knob), the amount is similar to a knob on a cupboard (a bit bigger than a tablespoon). If you want to get technical, the most exact description I could find shows that a “nob” is more likely to be slang for a wealthy British fellow (also called a “toff”) or in more of a vulgar sense, the name for a part of a man’s anatomy (I’m sure you can guess which part). A “knob” is where the butter comes in, which is what leads one to think it was in comparison to a cupboard knob.
When I spent a year of university in France, I took on the task of translating old recipes from the 18th and 19th centuries to edit into a cookbook. There were terms such as “dessert spoon” (not small like I thought, but more like a tablespoon), and glassful (based on a juice glass, so again smaller, about 5 ounces). Of course some of the terms did become standard, like tablespoons and teaspoons and even cups (based on an 8 ounce cup).
Here’s a few more for you, just for fun:
- dash – 1/8 teaspoon
- pinch – smaller than a dash, about 1/16 teaspoon *(what fits between your thumb & forefinger when you pinch them)
- spoonful – a heaping tablespoon (in our house, we call this a Chef’s tablespoon)
- jigger – 1-1/2 oz (Gramps used this one too – he put a jigger full of rye in his cocktail)
- peck – 8 quarts, or 32 cups (you know, as in “I love you, a bushel and a peck” – now you know just how much that is!)
So, as always, my message here is to keep your sense of humour in the kitchen, and if all else fails, use your imagination. After all, if someone handed you one of these vintage kitchen tools, what would you do with it?
On Wednesdays, I get to bring out my alter ego. For most Wednesdays over the past eleven years, I get to be a big kid. I have been known for most of that time amongst the other kids as “Poppy”, a name that I love not just because the flower is one of my favourites (bright, a bit unruly, and one of the first to happily signal summer is coming), It was also the name of one of the coolest grown-ups I knew when I was a kid. My Poppy had long red hair and she was a sort of princess in my mind – the peasant skirts, the hippie music that seemed to follow her and the magical smile and twinkle in her eye were all part of that persona. I don’t get to be that much of a free spirit, but the blue vest adorned with crests and pins all around a gigantic trefoil on my back do give me some renown. You see, I am a Girl Guide leader.
Currently, I am working with Sparks, the tiniest of girls allowed into the organization. We have 22 little sprites in our unit, run with wonderful humour and an incredible sense of organization by my fellow leader, mentor and friend of those eleven years, “Sparkle” (aptly named, don’t you think?).
It’s a wonderful experience to share in the adventures of young girls, and ones this small are especially enthusiastic – about everything. It’s contagious.
This week we are learning about Canada, and so I bamboozled my fantastic husband to help me represent Quebec at one of our activity stations. We only have ten minutes out of an hour’s meeting to wow them with something memorable, so what to do?? Well, it’s not that tough – we will tell them about Bonhomme and the Quebec Carnival, and we will feed them maple taffy on fresh snow, called “tire sur neige” in Quebec. How cool is that?! We are going on a tobogganing camp in a couple of weeks, so this is sure to put them right in the spirit of winter. Thankfully, at this age, they don’t seem to feel the cold and so being out in the minus twenty or so weather will just be an adventure. Meanwhile, I’m digging out all my woollies to take to camp!
You know what they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. I could post historic photos of sap being gathered. I wish my hubby had pictures of when he was young and on the horse-drawn wagons at his uncle’s sugar shack. But we’ll have to make do with the sticky fingers and gooey taffy to give you the general idea of the fun we had. Some may say it’s bad to give kids sugar so close to bedtime, sending them home all hyped up to their weary parents. Sorry folks, I will selfishly say that I enjoy every minute and don’t intend to stop having fun with my little Spark pals anytime soon. I hope they will remember me with the same kind of mischievous twinkle as I do the Poppy of my childhood.