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Sunshine & Lollipops in Winter

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.

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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.

Yoko Ono

Winter Storm Food

Now may not be the winter of my discontent, but it certainly is the heart of the season. Thankfully we have passed what is usually the coldest day of the year (January 15th), but it started to snow again this morning and I broke ranks. I just couldn’t handle it anymore.

I guess this is a common phenomenon. As I sat curled into the couch with Ella at my feet, I read articles of severe winter experiences from all over, and the one that struck me the most was from Newfoundland. They just received a record-breaking 70 cm of snow in one night (for any American readers, that’s about 3 feet!) One of the things people stock up on when a storm approaches – at least on the east coast – is chips.

#stormcheezies

I’m not a big potato chip fan, but sitting there munching my Cheezies I had to chuckle.

Traditionally, I bake on a snow day. Once Ella roused me for our afternoon outing and she got me out of my funk, I did manage to make the house smell good. A batch of Tropical Delight Cookies is sitting on the counter waiting for Hubbie to get back from work as I type.

Maybe I should change the name of these to “Storm Cookies”?

Winter is a tough season. We need to have the energy to keep shoveling but we have to remember our resolutions not to overindulge. Between our snowbird friends that have flown south and the bad roads, it’s hard to organize entertaining much. But short days and grey skies make for gloomy times.

This is not the exciting 50 shades of grey…

I say we deserve a few chips or cookies to get us through to February. It does make us feel better. I follow the philosophy of a wise bear and his friends – his best love was hunny, but the principle is the same.

“I don’t feel very much like Pooh today,” said Pooh.

“There there,” said Piglet. “I’ll bring you tea and honey until you do.”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

New moments, old memories

I love ice skating. As a kid I saw competitive skaters like ballerinas, and both were akin to fairies in my mind. I didn’t have the guts to take up the sport to that level – I could hardly walk and chew gum at the same time – but I always loved it as a duffer. I’ve had the good fortune to skate outdoors in the Rockies, and in Charlevoix, Quebec. Even as a duffer it is magical.

Tonight was our first Girl Guide meeting of the new year, after our Christmas break. The tradition for our unit is to have a skating party at the community rink in Kelowna.

It’s fun to see the girls after all the excitement of the holiday season, with their stories of what they did and what Santa brought. It’s a thrill to see them skate, some of them for the first or second time.

I also love this meeting for the memories it brings back…

  • my Dad lacing my skates nice and tight before a family skate, and pushing my mitts into my coat sleeve cuffs till my fingers hurt against the mitten seam.
  • Skating at Mayfair Park in Edmonton on the lake, then along the Bow River when we moved to Calgary – outside among the trees, with speakers that blasted music to skate along to
  • Playing “crack the whip” and trying so hard to not be the one to let go! (Then laughing hysterically when we all slid out across the ice)
  • Skating with my little brother on his bob skates (once he had graduated from the plastic bathtub on a rope towed by my parents
  • Watching my mom skate so gracefully (she competed a bit as a girl) – the figures, the spins. She taught me how to skate backwards – that was as fancy as I got.

My mom came to my skating party when I was a Brownie. She broke her leg that night, catching her blade in a gouge in the ice made from all the hockey play on our little community rink. It was a dramatic end to the evening, and it sure made for an interesting Christmas that year but thankfully we smile about it now.

I didn’t tell the girls about how my skating party went when I was a little Girl Guide. I did watch for gouges in the ice, though. I took pictures of them all, and gave them thumbs up as they wobbled and skidded and then skated – hooray! New moments in the memory books.

And I was sending good thoughts out to my mom, feeling thankful for the memories. And wistfully smiling at the same old warm feeling, remembering times with my dad, now gone.

All that in an hour, on a not-so-cold winter night. Life is good.

Warming the cockles of my heart

In honour of Hot Toddy Day, and because I plan to binge watch the last few episodes of Outlander tonight, I thought it fitting that I share a good recipe for the drink that is supposed to be the perfect cure for a dreary winter and the mood we often have to accompany it.

hot toddy

I am generally a fan of hot drinks on a cold day, and I do love trivia, especially as it pertains to food and drink. Toddies not only have a connection to Scotland but also to the American Revolutionary War, so they make a perfect fit with the Outlander story. Of course, some Outlander fans would say you don’t need a hot drink to warm up while watching such a sexy romantic tale, but well, better safe than sorry!

It is said that the first use of “toddy” for a drink was in India, where the fermented sap from a toddy palm was used to sweeten a cold drink in British colonial times. This recipe of a spirit with lemon, spices and sweetener made its way back to Britain, and it was the practical Scots who decided it would work well hot as a cure for the common cold.

Believing strongly in the power of preventative medicines, the Scots made the hot toddy a popular beverage. Their presence during the time of the American Revolutionary War (just like Jamie Fraser in the Outlander stories) was what brought the drink to North America. It is said the colonists liked the drink for liquid courage, but I think perhaps it might just have been to stave off the cold, damp weather.

I was a bit surprised a recipe wasn’t included in the Outlander Kitchen Cookbook, one of my favourite themed recipe collections. outlander kitchen cookbook(It contains so many other wonderful gems that I will use that common old Scottish phrase – “dinna fash” – if you’re thinking this makes it unworthy. On the contrary, I recommend it most highly for anyone with even a passing fancy for Scottish tastes and a love of history.

You can use the spirit of your choice to make a toddy, but here I’m offering what I believe would be the Scottish recipe. Lemons wouldn’t have been common in Scotland or America in the times of the colonists, but feel free to add a slice of lemon if you’d like a more worldly twist.

Spices too are adaptable; traditionally the slice of lemon is stuck with a few whole cloves before it is dropped in the glass, and a cinnamon stick garnishes the drink. If you’re feeling adventurous, a few pink peppercorns or a slice of ginger root can kick things up a notch.

I believe that a Highlander such as Jamie Fraser would have chosen a smoky, peaty Scotch like Laphroaig, but if your tastes are more mellow then perhaps a Glenmorangie would be to your liking. Feel free to experiment with different options. Just remember not to do it if you have to get up and drive afterwards.

Claire Fraser would undoubtedly have a stash of spices in her medicine kit, knowing the benefits of such things as cinnamon and cloves. With their time in the Caribbean, I like to think she might still have had a few treasures that could have helped raise the spirits of a toddy drinker, and perhaps eased the jolt from such a forceful libation.

As a last tip, I’ll offer a few tips on the vessel you use:

  • if you use a glass, put a metal spoon in the glass before you add the hot water. This will conduct the heat and prevent it from cracking.
  • if you choose a metal mug, remember it will conduct the heat very well – even handles can get hot, so be careful. It would be a shame to waste a good drink by dropping it on the ground.

 

SCOTTISH HOT TODDY

Instructions: Add 1 1/2 ounces of Laphroaig 10 (or another Islay Scotch) and 1 teaspoon of honey or maple syrup to a heat-safe glass. Season with lemon or orange, studded with a few whole cloves if desired, and a sprinkle of nutmeg or cinnamon. Heat 3 ounces of water to a near-boil and pour into glass; stir until honey is dissolved.

Slàinte!

jamie fraser drinking

‘‘Twas the Night Before Christmas…

In our house, Christmas was a big deal.

Decorating the tree was a major undertaking, usually requiring a few days to get everything tight. (Yes, we were a “one strand of tinsel at a time” kind of family.) Gifts were all thoughtful, and their wrapping was to be done with care. Everything was meant to be savoured.

Christmas Eve was inevitably busy, with last minute gifts to wrap amidst visiting friends. But once dinner was done, we settled in. Final preparations were near.

Every year of my childhood we read Clement C. Moore’s classic, once the cookies were set out for Santa.

Santa had to get a sample of each of the baked goods we’d made that year. I remember my mom explaining he probably wouldn’t have room to try them all, having to see everyone around the world.

I used to be able to recite all the verses… my favourite was

My mom usually read the story, but one year we were lucky enough to have Gramps there – he knew The Man in Red personally, so that was extra cool.

As soon as the story was finished, my brother and I would kiss our parents good night, and then it was off to bed to await the magic. I don’t remember dreams of sugar plums but I did sleep well.

I still get up in the morning to check and see what Santa sampled.

I hope there is magic in your heart too – you do know that Santa checks in anyway, even if you don’t put out cookies, right?

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