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Why does food taste better on holidays?
They say that February is the toughest month of the year to get through, what with winter blues and the lack of holidays to create so much as a long weekend. Apparently there is some scientific proof now that the lower levels of sunlight through the winter do reduce the levels of melatonin and serotonin in our systems, and these hormones affect not only our mood but also our sleep and our eating habits. That pretty much covers everything you do, don't you think? No wonder so many people head off to Mexico this time of year!
Since we don't have a flight booked I thought maybe some reminiscing of past travels might help… I spent some time surfing the web tonight watching the National Geographic "animal cam" in Africa and remembering my time on safari; the vibrant colours made me think of the beautiful costumes in Venice the year was there at Carnival time. With my mind wandering through these old memories my tastebuds decided to tag along and tastes came flooding back of wonderful meals in exotic places. Even a simple biscuit and a cup of tea still lingers as a euphoric food memory, because it was sampled on the salt pans of Botswana while watching the sun set. I need a dose of that in my living room this weekend - how do I get it??
I could turn the heat up and spread sand on the floor, but somehow I think it's more complicated than that. The experts say that a light box will help reduce the symptoms of SAD (what a great acronym - "seasonal affected disorder" sounds a bit wussy, but SAD sums it up nicely!) If you can't get to someplace tropical, why not have your own personal ray of sunshine? Personally I find the carbohydrate fix is what works for me; the other element that helps boost those -tonin levels and better your mood are complex carbs. (That's why we crave chocolate and other goodies more in the winter - or at least that's my story and I'm sticking to it.) Seriously, more fruits and grains, people!
Of course there is the old standby method - if you start to smile you will feel better after a short while even if you didn't feel like smiling when you started. If we can't have the special new association that turns a mundane meal into an exotic experience, let's bring back an old one. So, pull out the photo album from your favourite holiday, and try this recipe I invented another time I was thwarted from escaping those nasty winter blues. These cookies have dried fruit, chocolate and grains so they should cover all mood-improving possibilities. Let yourself smile and turn your SAD into HAPPY (hormone-affected, party-preparing, yahoo!) Corny it might be, but I think it could just stave off the blues till spring has officially arrived.
Tropical Delight Cookies (makes 20-30 cookies)
1-1/2 cups whole wheat all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
Ľ tsp baking soda
1 cup margarine or butter
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 large egg
2 tbsp orange juice
1 cup white chocolate chips (dark chocolate is okay too, if you prefer)
1 cup coarsely chopped pistachios
˝ cup crystallized ginger, sliced OR dried cranberries (your choice)
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease 2 large heavy cookie trays or place silicone baking sheets on trays.
Blend butter and sugar in large bowl till fluffy. Add orange juice and egg and mix till well blended. Mix dry ingredients in a large mixing cup (saves dishes!) Stir flour mixture into creamed butter and sugar mixture, then fold in nuts, fruit and chocolate.
Drop dough by tablespoons-ful onto cookie trays. Bake till golden, about 15 mn. Cool cookies on trays for 5 mn, then move to wire cooling rack. Can be stored in airtight container for 1 week (if they make it that long!)
Big Store Big Price
We just came back from a visit to the new Wal-Mart. Wow; this is one big store with a parking lot that is way too small. I cannot say that I am very proud of our new addition as someone who lives on the Westside.
I am a big supporter of small boutiques and small local stores, but like most people if I could save a few hundred dollars at the end of the year I am not going to say no. Well, let me clarify this for you item by item.
I buy my bread at two or three local bakeries and after seeing the poor quality of bread from Wal-Mart, I am not about to change that anytime soon. Just because you put the word "Gourmet or Artisan" on a loaf of bread does not make it better.
I buy 99% of my meat at a butcher and yes I probably pay a few bucks more, but I get service from a person who knows what they are doing and the quality is always awesome. Wal-Mart meat is probably fine, but I don't usually settle for fine when it comes to meat.
I will never buy fish or seafood at any other place than a fish store. 21-25 size prawns at my fish store are sold at $29.99 for a 2lb bag, at Costco the 2lb bag of 21-25 prawns is sold at $19.99 and at Wal-Mart the 2lb bag of 21-25 prawns is $13.99. Now this is a big difference at the end of the year if you eat a lot of prawns. And if you do eat lots of prawns you probably know that the quality of those 3 bags is totally different. When you cook prawns they are not supposed to shrink in half because they are full of water. Poor quality prawns are fished, then right away placed in a water tank with some chemicals which force the prawns to retain water. Once you start cooking those prawns they then release all that extra water in your pan. That is why they can sell it to you at such a cheap price, as they are actually selling you water for the price of prawns.
I cannot in good conscience start buying fruits and vegetables at a Wal-Mart when I am surrounded with fruit stands, small vegetable stores and farmers scratching to make a living. At Save on Food the cheapest you get a pineapple would be $3.99, at Costco you can get it for the same price; this new Wal-Mart had pineapple at $1.99. At this price, you tell me that no farmers or employees are getting screwed with prices like this. Maybe Wal-Mart has a cheap secret way to grow pineapple that no one else has figured out!
Look I am saying this with passion obviously, but think before you start buying your groceries at a store that already makes 397.38 billion dollars in sales. If you choose Wal-Mart for your fruits and vegetables you are slowly killing our Canadian farming industry and you then void the right to start bitching and complaining when the small local shop close its doors in a few months. You know it's nice to have a nearby place where you are able to pick up a carton of milk and a few apples, but once it is close you will have to go negotiate that way to small stupid parking lots at Wal-Mart every time you need food.
To the 300 plus employees at Wal-Mart I respect your financial choice since we all need to work. I just hope you don't buy your fruits and vegetables there!
I may look like I am bashing this new Wal-Mart, but really I am only saying to you think about what you need to buy before you leave your house. People that visit the Okanagan rave about the fact that we have farming land in between all the massive housing developments; it is the very charm of our area. If our farmers no longer make enough money selling veggies they won't need the land and it will eventually all become housing just like the big cities.
Is it really cheaper to buy at Wal-Mart once you factor in the cost of losing our farming industry forever? I will keep buying my toilet paper and vitamins at Wal-Mart and leave the rest to small stores… what will you do?
When it's cold, comfort food always seems to be the right things; you need something that sticks to your ribs, as my Gramps used to say. Interestingly enough, comfort food seems to transcend traditional and cultural boundaries. You don't have to be Quebcois to love split pea soup, or Russian to love borscht, or English to enjoy shepherd's pie... there is in fact something doubly comforting when you have the chance to enjoy another culture's comforts. I liken it to being made an honorary club member. I remember feeling that way the first time I was in the local Jewish deli as a kid, and even now when Martin makes corned beef sandwiches it makes me think of the cozy diner and my impressions of how friendly the kosher family place was. I even thought that is what kosher meant - friendly. Maybe that was in part because of the diner.
Have you ever been to an old-fashioned diner? I am talking about the kind with a "lunch counter' and a row of swivel stools, a menu listed high on the wall behind the counter, and servers that look like they have been there forever but are still laughing (albeit sometimes ruefully). The menu items are often such delicacies as liver and onions, lemon meringue pie and bacon and egg sandwiches. Okay, so maybe they are not houses of fine cuisine, but the comfort level you feel is one that can get you through the rainiest of days. I don't know if it's the old-fashioned style of the place or the food or both, but I think there should be more places like that if people are not eating like that at home.
I don't think we have a diner in Kelowna, but if someone knows of one, please send us an e-mail! In the meantime, I think I might just have to look for a couple of swivel stools...
I thought I would give you a traditional diner recipe from most Quebec truck stop. It's simple, it's all natural therefore it is healthy and it is very kids friendly. It's much long to write it down then to actually make it! This would be the perfect dinner to make ahead and freeze unbaked to take to Big White for the weekend.
Sauce aux oeufs pour pâte au saumon
(Salmon Pie with Egg Sauce)
Serve 4 to 6 hungry people
3/4 cup chopped onions
3/4 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup of butter
1lb of cooked salmon chunk - can is fine
3 large potatoes, cooked, and mashed - keep warm
2 hard boiled eggs, sliced
a touch of chopped fresh parsley
Salt & pepper
Cook your onions and celery in the butter. In a large bowl mix the onions with your warm mashed potatoes, chunk salmon, and seasoning and add the hard boiled eggs. Place inside your pie with a top crust.
Cooked at 425F for 20 minutes then reduce the heat to 350F for another 45 minutes. Some people like to place the eggs to cover the bottom of the pie, I like them in it! Also some diners will use puff pastry, but it is much trickier to cook to perfection and not end up with soggy dough.
1/2 cup of shortening
2 cups of flour
pinch of salt
1/3 cup of very cold water
Make the dough and let it rest 30 minutes. Roll down 2 circle a bit bigger than your pie plate.
SAUCE AUX OEUFS
1 small onion chopped
2 cups of milk
4 TBSP butter
4 TBSP flour
4 hard boiled eggs, sliced… not too small
Salt & pepper
Cook the onions in the butter, add the flour to make a ROUX. Then add the milk while stirring vigorously. Cook for 10 minutes at medium heat and watch so it does not burn at the bottom. Once it is thick add your eggs and season to taste. Do not over cook this sauce.
In Canada, we pride ourselves on our climatic toughness. We like to trade stories of the worst winters and compare the endurance we have against those from other cities. (Did you know the corner of Portage and Main in Winnipeg is the windiest street corner in the world?) This general prevalence of less clement weather (dare I say winter?) makes us fiercely proud of what summer we do manage to eke out of the calendar; we tend to stretch the definition a little just to make ourselves feel warmer for a bit longer, I think. Canadian tradition says that summer starts unofficially when the May long weekend arrives. It is not always that the weather holds out and doesn't offer more than a tease of the season's heat until the eve of said weekend, but this year that is the case. As a result, we all seem to have a severe case of cabin fever and are aching to get out there and soak it up!
As I have watched the weather forecast provide increasingly encouraging news all week, I have been reminiscing about past summers and what made them special. As a kid, I used to dread the Victoria Day weekend as that was when the garden work went into full force. We dug and planted and moved rocks and generally didn't do anything that seemed like what one should be doing on the first lazy weekend of summer. I was always secretly hoping to get an essay assignment on what I did that weekend so I could regale the class with a tale of woe and hard labour. Funnily enough, as an adult I now look forward to the first sure weekend of garden work.
If you aren't a garden buff like me, then I imagine the smell of burgers or ribs on the barbecue might be the memory of Victoria Days past. Or perhaps it is the sound of the boat on the water, or the splashing of kids at the beach. Maybe it is the feel of the wind in your hair as you ride with the top down for the first time. Last night when I heard a familiar silly tune warbling through the trees, I remembered that the first trip the ice cream truck made was usually this weekend. The taste of ice cream eaten outside off a stick is certainly a taste of summer. That and drinking from the garden hose were things that went with skinned knees, grass stains and sunburn.
I wonder what kids today will have as memories when they grow older and want to look back. My niece arrives this weekend for a summer stay "out west" - her first summer away from home in Quebec. Perhaps we can sit down tonight and compare stories. After all, isn't that what being a family is all about?
Martin wanted to share a recipe this week that he used while we were in Banff, and that got me thinking about all the places we have been and all the adventures we have had. Thanksgiving has often been a time when we are working so we have sometimes not had the traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings. But that doesn't mean that we have nothing to be thankful for (excuse the bad grammar). In our part of the world, all of us have much for which we can be grateful, even on those days when it might not seem obvious. This time of year seems to bring out a bit of the blues in many of us, as the skies darken and the wind blows cold. We just need to look inside our hearts and find the bright spots we all have…
So, indulge me once again while I share some of our highlights - perhaps they will bring on a smile and make you think of things you had forgotten were special!
On our first year in Banff, the first snow fell on September 7th. I could not believe that summer had ended already and here was winter right on its heels. I missed the lush green of Vancouver and was lonely for my family (we had been married only a year). The beautiful edge to that was the colder weather brought the elks bugling and the changing colour of the larch trees. The Rockies are beautiful in the summer but they are spectacular in the winter. We made all kinds of animal friends in those woods and began our life as our own family that winter.
The year we celebrated "L'action grace" in Quebec it was even colder. I was born on the prairies and I thought I knew cold until we lived in Charlevoix. Who knew there was such a thing as minus fifty degrees WITH a windchill?! And let me tell you, once it gets that cold, Fahrenheit and Celsius mean nothing!! But in the cold, the Northern Lights are so brilliant you can smell the ozone and hear them crackle in the midnight sky. The exhaustion of working split shifts and not seeing each other was tamed by those magical winter nights.
Here in Kelowna, although we work over the weekend I do get to ride my scooter through the changing colours of the vineyards at harvest time and talk to people who are visiting from all over the world. It is wonderful to live in a place so beautiful that visitors constantly remind you how fortunate you are to be there.
I wish that more of my friends and family were close, and that I could share a toast with them this weekend. But they all know I am thinking of them and I still hold them close in my heart though they are far away. Martin and I will share a moment of gratitude in having each other, and when I walk Simon through the vineyard rows in the early morning I will be ever so grateful that the sun came up again. I will smile to know that we can walk peacefully across the land and enjoy food from the garden and work at jobs that we enjoy and at the end of the day stay warm in our house. Perhaps that sounds maudlin, but when you think about it, there are many people who do not have these joys in their lives… and many of them still smile, so doesn't it behoove us to try?
There is a great proverbial saying about a fisherman that seems to suit Thanksgiving: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for life." Being able to appreciate things and take advantage of what life offers you is a great way to be thankful.
The fishing season is approaching to an end and I thought I would give a simple yet delicious halibut recipe I use to do for the brunch at The Banff Springs Hotel a few years back.
Cashew and Rosemary Crusted Fresh Halibut - Serves 4 portions
250g grounded toasted cashews
125g fresh rosemary
125g cream (35%)
Salt & pepper
125g chopped shallots
125g sour cream
50g chopped rosemary
Salt & pepper
You can portion the halibut or leave it in one large piece.
In a bowl, mix cashews, breadcrumb, chopped rosemary and salt & pepper. Season the halibut and dip it in a mixture of cream and egg. Immediately tap down the crust all around and place it on a baking tray with parchment paper.
Bake at 400F. Cook to internal temperature of 145F maximum and use your broiler to finish coloring the crust on top if needed.
Mix all the sauce ingredients together and set aside for an hour. Serve the halibut hot or cold with lemon wedges and the sauce on the side.
P.S.this is also nice with salmon
I have now unpacked my wool sweaters and long pants, and tucked away the flip flops and flimsy sundresses. The tender plants in the garden have been brought in or covered with mulch and the patio chairs are stacked up. And with most of the lettuce gone from the garden, I don't seem to feel like salad anymore. Rather, the tomatoes are being used for spaghetti sauce and broth for lamb stew that we can linger over as the evening cools off.
As fall arrives there is always a melancholy at leaving summer behind, but then once it heads into full gear it seems that the crispness in the air and the changing colours bring a new outlook. I enjoy the golden light of autumn that seems to make us all a bit more romantic, and I love the comfort food that graces the table again as we gather round with friends to catch up on old news. The changing of gears when the seasons change is a natural part of life's process, and letting it happen to you can be very cleansing.
So, here is your checklist to ensure you get the most out of this new season. A sort of tune-up if you will, to make certain the machine is working well and the gears do not grind as you move from one to the other…
* Take a walk through a vineyard and enjoy the changing colours
* Watch a sunset and a moonrise (preferably with someone so you can make the most of the romantic moment! NOTE: Dogs will do just fine, too.)
* Bite into an apple right from a fruit stand or market stall - listen to the crisp crunch of the skin and taste the flavours of a fall day
* If you have kids, take them to the back yard or a park with lots of leaves and jump in a pile! (If you don't have kids and can't "borrow" any, just blame it on the fresh air going to your head!!)
* Savour a stew or a pot pie for dinner, and follow it with a comfy homemade dessert like bread pudding (I have included one of my recipes below for you to try)
* Enjoy the company of good friends and toast their health - if you feel ambitious, you can even start up a gourmet club and have everyone host evenings in a round-robin format (it doesn't have to be dinner and could even be pot luck to accommodate today's busy schedules)
This weekend Martin and I will be doing all of those things, so we will toast your health. Here's wishing you many happy moments in that golden light and a good start to the coming winter when we will shift gears again.
POOR OUTLAW BREAD PUDDING
This is a pioneer recipe that I adapted when we worked on movie catering trucks. It take a few shortcuts so is a good quick recipe that produces a fantastic result!
2 tbsp Bird's Custard powder
˝ cup sugar
2 cups milk
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp lemon zest (TIP: zest the lemon first, then cut for juicing)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp ground ginger (no really, it is a tablespoon - if you don't like ginger too much, substitute 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice)
4-6 pieces candied ginger, finely chopped
10 slices whole wheat bread, cubed (white bread may be substituted for a fluffier pudding)
2 cups apple, chopped
1 cup raisins or dried cherries
Grease a shallow casserole dish. Preheat oven to 325 F.
Beat eggs, custard powder, sugar and milk in a large bowl. Add lemon juice and zest and spices and mix again. Fold bread cubes into this mixture and set aside for 15-30 minutes.
Pour pudding into casserole dish and bake for 25 minutes covered with a lid or tinfoil, then bake a further 10-15 minutes uncovered. Top should be golden brown, and pudding should be set (not sloppy when the bowl is moved.)
Serve warm or cold with whipped cream, ice cream or just cream poured over top. If you want a really decadent dessert, serve with caramel sauce!
Changing of the Guard
Spring has definitely sprung in our part of the world, and every day there is a new reminder of the splendor to come as the sun shines longer and the air warms on our cheeks. New blades of grass poke through the mulch of last year, and shoots that promise daffodils and tulips show braver every day. It also seems to be a time however, when we are reminded of the circle of life and how sometimes we must honour the changing of the guard. It is a good reminder of the value of true friendship, which is indeed a precious commodity. If you will grant me a little poetic license this week, I would like to explain. This column is not so much about food, although that certainly anchored the friendship I will recount, but it is of great importance so I hope you will read on.
I got news this week that a very old friend, Riley, had passed away, and it struck me hard because it was someone who was close to another friend I lost recently - my girl, Satchmo. Some of you will shake your heads at my sentimentality perhaps, but the loss of four-legged friends is a blow that strikes a special place in your heart. I feel the need to honour this friend because of the significance of his friendship and also the timeliness of his passing. You see, he was Irish, and so it seems only fair that he be remembered on the most famous of Irish days. And besides, that was also Mo's birthday, and he was one of her favourite birthday pals. Allow me to paint you a picture if I can…
There is an early misty morning at Kits Point in Vancouver, with the sun just barely brightening the sky and only a few joggers out on the path. The park is alive however, with the sounds of happy snuffling in the grass and low voices chatting amongst the trees. It is the dog owners of Kitsilano, and they are out with their four-legged friends for their daily constitutional. For many, this means more of a pilgrimage to the top of the Point where a certain fellow named John waits in his yellow rain jacket with his pal close by - a staunch and dapper Irish Terrier named Riley, who knows he is King of the Hill. There is not a dog who has been to the park more than twice who does not remember this man, as he has pockets that contain an endless supply of biscuits. Owners who are otherwise strict go to pieces when in John's vicinity, for he is renowned at his ability to convey their pet's commentary on just how hard-done-by they would be if they were left out of the gift-giving. Everyone finishes by realizing that the odd cookie never hurt anyone, and a little attention goes a long way. As the group parts company for each to carry on with their day, there is always a smile on each face - two-legged and four - that helps them start the day right.
Many of those folks grew older together, and eventually we even learned the names of the other owners! There was a special camaraderie that developed in those early mornings. Even after my girl Satchmo went blind, one of the few times she would run was when she heard the familiar voice on that hilltop calling her name. She and Riley continued to wrestle and taunt each other even when he started to go blind too, as we all got a bit greyer. When we moved away from Vancouver and would return for a visit, we always made it back for a morning hello. Over the years many faces have come and gone, and generations of owners and dogs have now been a part of things. With Riley gone now, it truly is the end of an era and his is a life that needs to be honoured and toasted. He and John set a standard for friendship and generosity that needs to be honoured in today's world more than ever, reminding us that we will be handsomely rewarded for taking the time to stop and enjoy a biscuit or a sweet-smelling spot in the grass.
So, Riley, here is to you. Thank you for all the memories; it was truly a pleasure to be in your company. I hope you and Satchmo are having a good old romp in the spring sunshine. I shall drink to you this St. Patrick's Day, with this adapted toast in mind:
May the smells rise to meet you
And the wind be always past your nose;
May the sun shine warm upon your coat
And the biscuits fall gently from a hand.
And until we meet again,
May the Lord hold you safe in his Land.
What do Chefs eat for lunch?
Someone asked me the other day what do I eat for fast food. While I pride myself on cooking good food at home, I am like everyone else - I have a busy life that requires sometimes finding food without having to cook it myself.
When I am working, usually it's a 12 hour day. Funnily enough, when I cook for dinner parties, I bring my own lunch which is often sandwiches. Convenience and quality are the main goal and sometimes the main goal is just finding food. I try to stay away from bags of potato chips and aim for a more substantial meal like sandwiches.
I love to buy paninis from Valoroso and cook them at the clients' house. Valoroso fills their sandwiches with hot salami and Provolone cheese; they are delicious. Valoroso also has great round foccacia that can be turned into a nice sandwich. I am also a regular for the ham and cheese sandwich from the Matterhorn Bakery in Westbank; they are made fresh everyday and are very simple and tasty. If I have time I will stop by Hooked on Seafood and grab some fish & chips or even just chips and yes, ketchup. Chefs are people too, and people love junk food. I have been known to grab a simple pepperoni from L&D Meats and a cookie from the Okanagan Grocery bakery next to Cod Father's Seafood. The odd time I will even have lunch at Costco with a hot dog or a poutine if I miss Quebec. It's certainly not the best healthy food or even the best poutine, but it usually will do the trick to appease that down feeling I get when I am missing old traditions.
I have also picked up a chicken pot pie from Save on Food occasionally and I have to tell you it is as good as my mother's which is not necessarily the best person to compare it with, but it's good and convenient. The last thing would be a Bismark donut from the Country Bakery in the Lakeview Heights little mall on the West side - yummy!
So the cat's out, yes chefs do eat junk food too, and I am not ashamed of it, that's why I go to the gym once in while.
I don't get to go out for lunch often, but I do get to enjoy the leftovers of the meals a certain chef cooks for me, so that does make me the envy of many in the office… I can give you some secret treats I like around town, if you promise not to tell too many people to spoil the fun.
One of my favourite morning treats is an eccles cake. It is a puff pastry concoction filled with currants, and I love not only the taste of it but also the challenge of trying not to get the pastry crumbs everywhere when I eat it! (There is nothing like fun food to start the day.) I like the ones they make at the Matterhorn Bakery here on the west side, but the ones at Specialty Bakery reopening soon next to Illichman's Deli are good too.
Another great treat is one of the delectable treats from Okanagan Grocery. I don't get there myself often but Martin will sometimes bring goodies home and I like to make a special trip if I am across the bridge. They have wonderful brownies and Callebaut chocolate bread - they even do chocolate buns too, for those with a bit of will power. They usually have seasonal items too which are fun to try.
For Christmas, I discovered the most decadent little treat ever at Valoroso Foods. Claudia recommended these little individually packaged handmade nougats they had shipped in from Italy, and boy are they awesome! Just the right combination of crunchy and sticky with flavours that are nutty and sweet and exotic all at the same time. Get two so you can share with a friend, if they have any left. (If not, maybe you want to ask Claudia what the latest great thing is!)
I suppose as a last item I can mention something more healthy, since we have just passed the season of indulgence. How about a pomegranate? It may seem a bit labour intensive, but I do think the results are worth the work (doesn't it just seem like an adventure waiting to be peeled?) Did you know that it is one of the world's oldest fruits, and that it is regarded as a symbol of health, fertility and eternal life? If that isn't enough to make you want to try one, how about the fact that it is just cool food?? (To open one without too much hassle, slice the top off like a jack-o-lantern lid and then cut skin-deep down the five membranes that appear like a star if you look into the fruit. Pry open the fruit and enjoy!)
Life is never long enough to do everything on your list, so put some fun things at the top. You don't always have to rush around - take time to stop for a pastry or French fries or a fresh piece of fruit. Breathe deep, savour the moment and celebrate your indulgence.
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