January. Short drab days and long cloudy nights. Not even a twinkling star to cheer one through the darkness. My Prairie girl soul takes offence to so much grey; it aches for the sea-blue skies and blinding sun on snowdrifts.
My best remedy for what seems to be a seasonal malaise is to cook. I especially like to use citrus flavours in winter, as they help to awaken the senses and brighten things up with their acidity and even their colour.
One of my favourite January pastimes is making Seville Marmalade. I have always loved the stuff, thanks to my maternal grandfather who hails from the Scottish side of my heritage. His habit of stuffing things in my tiny mouth whilst babysitting me as a toddler is probably the largest single contribution anyone made to my palate. Marmalade, green olives, watermelon… he opened my eyes and tastebuds to the range of flavours in the world.
I have written about my marmalade making in the past, and the wonderful author of the recipe I use, in my post Wishing for Marmalade Skies . I did make marmalade this year again, adding a wee dram of Johnny Walker Black Label to the pot just before filling the jars. Next year I intend to submit a sample in the international competition in Dalemain, UK. I’d like to attend their Marmalade Festival too, at some point.
For those who aren’t marmalade fans, I have another recipe for you to enjoy. I adapted a tart recipe from Ottolenghi, a fabulous chef to use for winter inspirations with all his Mediterranean flavours.
Orange Polenta Cake is perfect for sharing, whether for afternoon tea, happy hour (with a bit of Asti Spumante) or as a dessert after a nice stew dinner.
There is a wee bit of a marmalade flavour from the caramelized oranges on top but the cake is buttery and having a bit of caramel sauce with it almost makes you forget it’s winter.
It is a new year, and spring will come eventually. In the meantime, I’ll keep cooking and persevere. The smell of the oranges cooking will remind me of sunshine and lollipops and all things bright and beautiful.
Spring passes and one remembers one’s innocence.
Summer passes and one remembers one’s exuberance.
Autumn passes and one remembers one’s reverence.
Winter passes and one remembers one’s perseverance.
I know, I’m sorry – I didn’t post anything all weekend, not even on Monday. In my defense, I was busy being a gourmand – in the garden planting and pruning during the day and at a table enjoying food and drink with friends at night. There simply was no time left to catalog it all. But I took pictures, so here I am catching up.
We love brunch. Everything about this blended meal appeals to us, and so we work it into our schedule whenever we can. Since we work on many Sundays, it’s a particularly joyous treat when we do get the time to lounge over all the flavours. Brunch is a foodie’s meal.
Brunch was invented by an Englishman in the late 19th century. Believe it or not, Guy Beringer first publicized the idea in an essay defending the case for weary social butterflies suffering from a successful Saturday party. A traditional English breakfast which started with heavy meat pies and other rich proteins was too drastic, so brunch allowed people to ease into a meal, and the day. The idea was to start with “tea pastries”, and perhaps even have a bit of hair of the dog with a cocktail. If brunch was a real thing, he proposed, people wouldn’t be judged harshly for proceeding this way. Interestingly, the concept didn’t catch on in North America for more than thirty years.
Even when we do have a big work day ahead, we have been known to salvage a component of a brunch meal to raise our spirits. Even without a Caesar or a glass of bubbly, a bit of brunch works wonders to make me feel spoiled even on a work day.
Last weekend was hectic with yard projects and deck building so there was no time to waste. Saturday we went all out, and Sunday we dragged our tired selves out of bed to get back at it. My hubbie decided we deserved a treat and so he whipped up some biscuits with the first of the fresh herbs in the back garden. Thanks to Ina Garten’s fantastic biscuit recipe and some of our chili grape jelly, I got to feel spoiled if only for a mere half hour.
I might not have had a hangover on Sunday morning but my sore muscles were grateful for the chance to ease into the day. Mr. Beringer was so right:
“Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting. It is talk-compelling,” Beringer wrote. “It makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings.”
April Fool’s Day is coming up this week, and so I thought I would use that as inspiration to be a bit goofy. It could be cabin fever – the delayed arrival of spring has made me a bit stir-crazy. I don’t know about you, but I just feel that a little bit of whimsy is the best way to weather the storm.
Hopefully you will forgive the lack of nutritional value in this week’s recipes and take pleasure in knowing this topic give you water cooler fodder for the week to come!
Did you know that a real seasonal spring food is Peeps? They are a traditional sweet made by a company called Just Born, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; they come most commonly in the form of baby chicks. If you have never seen or heard of Peeps, check the Easter section of the larger grocery stores. If you’d like to see how Peeps are made, you can check out this factory video:
Peeps have a very loyal following, with some people taking their appreciation to quite imaginative heights! There are even such Peep pastimes as Peep Jousts (arm your Peep with a toothpick under his wing for a lance, then put him in the microwave with another combatant and after placing your wagers on the winner, push the ON button. The winner is the one that expands enough to engulf his unwitting enemy.) I could have posted a video on this, but I prefer that you imagine the fun…
There is Peep art – patterns of the charming little fellows glued on canvas that sell for hundreds of dollars. (Peeps do come in an array of colours, allowing for numerous permutations in design, so it’s not as silly as you might think.)
Simple indulgence in Peeps is ample goofiness, and you needn’t feel guilty eating them. They are only 32 calories each, and there are 350 million of them made each year, so they are certainly not endangered.
I suppose if you prefer natural foods, you could just stick to regular marshmallows. Did you know they have been around for 200 years and that originally the root of the marshmallow plant was what made them sticky and gooey? This plant was also used to soothe sore throats. I don’t know if you could attest to a marshmallow doing that but it arguably does make you feel better when you eat one.
Whether you like them pre-stuck to Rice Krispies in a square or roasted over an open flame will not diminish the smile that seems to get stuck on your face after eating them.
I have a few final notes for you if you choose to let whimsy strike and indulge in the spongy confection…
- Beware anyone brandishing a roasted marshmallow – flaming and sticky is not a very safe combination in the air.
- If you do get melted (or manhandled) marshmallow stuck somewhere it shouldn’t be, remember to remove it as soon as possible or it will become like Super Glue.
- The best remedy for unsticking marshmallow bits seems to be licking them off, so try to aim for something or someone you like. (If you use peanut butter, be sure to ask about nut allergies first.)
If you like your marshmallow inside something else, here’s a recipe that includes the other seasonal sweet – chocolate.
3/4 cup Callebaut chocolate
1 cup unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups white sugar
5 large eggs
Zest of 1 full orange, grated on a “microplane” (fine grater)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups small Callebaut chocolate chunks (or chocolate chips)
2 cups miniature marshmallows
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.
Heat chocolate and butter in a pan slowly while stirring, until melted. Stir in sugar until melted and well blended. Cool the mixture 10 to 15 minutes.
Add eggs, orange zest and vanilla and stir until blended. Add flour, salt, and mix again. Add chocolate chunks and marshmallows, and pour into your pan.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until brownies spring back when touched in the centre of the pan. Let cool on a wire rack. Cut and serve at room temperature, dusted with icing sugar if you want to dress them up.
Happy April Fools’ Day 🙂 And if you’re saving yourself, Happy Easter!
I love going to the movies. There is something about sitting in the dark with strangers all being immersed in the same experience. The big screen and surround sound are fun, but they are just part of the ambience. The last part is crucial – movie snacks.
For me, popcorn at a movie is a required component. My hubbie is more of a chocolate and licorice kind of guy, munching only the occasional handful of popcorn. Despite our disparity on choice of snack, we have managed to attend movies happily together on enough Tuesdays to fill a large bucket.
Regardless of the snack you choose, its enjoyment can provide the final step in immersing oneself in the movie. Munching M & M’s or gnawing on a bite of licorice can help manage the stress of a horror movie monster’s massacre; nibbling popcorn can aid in maintaining one’s heartbeat at a reasonable level during fast-paced action scenes. The smell of the treats, the movie soundtrack music that leads us in, the darkness that envelops us and the smoke and mirrors of a story on the screen all blend together to take you away from the regular world.
There are consequences to every action. Just like a good movie will also make you think, the snacks leave a lasting impression as well. Tonight on the way home from the theatre it occurred to me – I was busy fussing with popcorn kernels in my teeth and my hubbie was sucking on bits of licorice stuck in his teeth. (He had already licked his fingers of the melting chocolate as we walked to the car.) Was this a marketing ploy, I wondered? Perhaps the movie production companies are in cahoots with Nestlé or Cadbury’s to ensure we are sucked into a lasting experience. Does the popcorn machine company Cretors & Co. put something in with the kernels? After all they have had five generations of their family sustaining movie goers all over North America. (You can read my article on the history of popcorn if you’re keen to know more on this story.)
I suppose I’m just getting sentimental as I age. Much about movies and the movie-going experience has changed in my lifetime. “Extreme” theatres and reclining seats, movies about video game characters – all things that didn’t exist twenty years ago when hubbie and I started our movie date night.
Part of me likes that the popcorn kernels still stick in my teeth the same way they always have. I smile when I hear the outrageously loud sound of my hubbie opening his bag of licorice. Some things don’t need to change.
It’s a sad night. We reached the bottom tonight. There is no more.
We ate the last of the wonderful Beaver Dam confections from Le Chocolatier. I did dloublecheck in the box, just to sure there were no more. I felt a bit like Winnie the Pooh with a pot of honey, and my hubbie looked at me with the same expression. We were sorry to be empty handed.
I’m sorry if I misled you. Perhaps you thought I was talking of a more serious matter. Well, in our humble abode the end of a delectable delight is a tragic event. We really do revel in a nice treat and these little morsels are the perfect blend of comfort food and decandence. Chocolate, caramel, pecans, pretzels… it’s so easy to lose yourself in The rich creaminess and exciting crunchy goodness. Thankfully there are enough in a box to share, because my hubbie loves them too. One of the lovely bonuses to having such a good buddy with whom I’m in tune is that I don’t have to worry who eats the last one – we can share.
It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long difficult words but rather short easy words like what about lunch? – Winnie the Pooh
The really sad part is that we have to go all the way to Canmore to get more. Since we don’t plan on heading that way in the near future, I may have to contact Chief Confectioner & Chocolate Dude John Spear to see if we can order more via post.
Ah well, I’m off to bed now. Tomorrow will be another day. I’ll take Pooh’s attitude and look for the good in things.