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Happy-Gourmand

Chewing on food nostalgia

I’ve heard the word “unprecedented” so much lately that it is starting to sound like a simple adjective to describe the times, like disco or punk. As we enter the start of summer, many of the usual occasions that foster memories and momentum for the season are not possible. To replace those missing moments, many of us are using throwbacks and retro styling.

Have you noticed how many people are posting old photos, reminiscing about old fashion, and of course watching old TV shows and movies? Even much of the comfort food we’ve been consuming tends to date back to childhood. The memes we see about these stressful times can be funny, but the real fuel we need right now runs deeper; it speaks to our souls.

I am not going to offer any recipes this week; I hear the grumbling. I know that many of you are sick of being home and cooking. Enjoy your time out on the patios, in the restaurants, and picking up your food-to-go for a picnic or dinner on the deck. Please remember, as the old saying goes, “tip your waiter or waitress on the way out.”

Everyone is talking about the Michael Jordan documentary series, “The Last Dance,” right now. With no live sports, I imagine lots of folks are working their way into becoming basketball fans just for the sake of watching some athletic competition. 

I would like to think that there is also an appeal that runs deeper. “Tiger King” was popular in the same way the toilet paper jokes are – suitably bizarre for the times. Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls – another retro reference – represent dreams, a dynasty, and winning, sometimes against the odds. Even superstars lose on occasion, but they always play with commitment. 

Maybe that’s why superhero marathons are playing, too. A reminder that we are all in this together, and that superheroes can hide in the crowd among us and materialize when needed. When I was a kid, having Wheaties for breakfast was considered as increasing one’s potential for greatness, just like the athletes who were on the box. It might still work…

The other point from “The Last Dance” is of course that a team can accomplish more than a single player. It takes time to put a team together so that they all work well and can use their skill sets, but they can achieve greater heights. 

If I relate this to food, I can make an analogy easily. One ingredient does not make a dish. If one dish makes a meal, it is something with many flavours and textures. By the same token, a meal shared around a table is enjoyed on a higher level than a meal we eat alone.

We are all in this together. All of it. Sharing the memories of other times we were together can help us all to hang in there. Taking a break and refueling from those happy moments is a good thing; it lets us catch our breath so we can get a second wind. 

So, have that mac n’ cheese or brownies, share the goodies around. Build new memories for a throwback you can use down the road. We are in this for the long haul. There will be a time when T-shirts with those pandemic memes will be retro. 





How to avoid hearing 'I don't want what she's having'

Keeping everyone happy

The other night Hubby and I were making dinner, and out of the blue we were inspired to switch things up. Not that we don’t eat well; regular readers will know that being married to a chef is a real bonus at dinnertime.

It has been more than 60 days of pandemic life for us – two months of being at home with no work and no visitors. Nobody to cook for but ourselves. We have made all kinds of wonderful meals and treats and tried many new recipes. But the one catch is we are both always eating the same thing.

We were preparing salad for dinner, so it was not complex to vary the so-called recipe and create our own versions. Hubby had his childhood favourite chicken salad with iceberg lettuce, celery, cucumber, and a mayo dressing. I had my cold chicken pieces over a bed of arugula and spinach with some grated carrot, grape tomatoes and cucumber and a balsamic vinaigrette. We were both happy diners.

If you’ve been able to support local restaurants and order take-out, then you’ve likely had the chance to choose your own path. Likewise, if you live alone, this is an advantage you may not have recognized. If you’re like us, and every meal has been the same for everyone – yet you’ve secretly hankered for a bit of something unique – then I’m happy to share our ideas for maintaining household sanity and good humour.

It works for us with these simple suggestions:

  1. Choose salad as the main course for the evening but set it up as a salad bar and let people choose what they want. To save on waste, don’t chop or grate veggies ahead of time as they don’t keep as well that way. Each diner can prep their own ingredients. Have a few dressings pulled out of the fridge or make your own if you’re feeling creative. TIP: remember to include leftovers as ingredients – chopped meat or fish and roasted veggies are fun additions.
  2. On a day off, prepare a few meals in bulk and then portion them out in fridge/freezer containers. Individuals can choose their own, so if you feel like lasagne tonight but your housemate wants the chili – no problem. TIP: this is a good way to engage everyone. Get each person to cook a meal they want. Kids can help, too, even if just with menu ideas. Here’s a few to get you going
  3. Customize dinner on the fly – sheet pan meals allow for a bit of variation by using all the room on the pan. Cook dark and light meat chicken, for example, or a few different roasted veggies to match each person’s taste. TIP: You can also combine the salad idea with a sheet pan main dish for a bigger meal or larger group (for those with a bigger “bubble”).

I hope that helps. I know it is getting tougher, with the continued uncertainty in the world about so many things and the general lack of hugs. My theory is that if we can keep the stress out of the kitchen then it will be a haven that helps us all keep our sanity. The good vibes will be like vitamins that foster more smiles and kindness. 

Let’s bake a bit of that into the new normal.



Taking solace: pause, reflect

I suppose the title sounds rather melancholy. I am feeling that way lately. Certainly, we are very fortunate to be in a place where the pandemic has not struck hard; in B.C. the curve has been flattened and here in the Okanagan we have only had a few small outbreaks of coronavirus. Canada is a country that has many levels of support and infrastructure to help keep us safe and healthy. I am grateful.

I am also saddened by the loss of a livelihood for hubby and me, and by the isolation needed to keep us safe. The irony is not lost on either of us that here we are with all this free time and summer coming, and yet we can’t go anywhere or visit anyone. 

Events are not happening for the most part this season – all the clients have rebooked for next year since guests can’t travel and some are vulnerable. Group pictures become hard to do when incorporating social distancing, and passing appetizers is impossible.

It is important to take solace in what we have. Every little moment from walking the dog to seeing a new blossom or shoot in our yard have been cause for celebration. Having virtual happy hour with friends and Zoom coffee dates with family and loved ones around the world does much to lift our spirits. 

We have taken advantage of the time to prepare a wonderful edible garden for this year, and to do some small (read affordable) fix-it jobs around the house. I am taking courses on bread baking and learning more about edible plants and their history. Hubby is working on his online presence for future. 

With the next phase of our reality, unfolding in the next few weeks, I intend to pause and reflect on how fortunate we are before I make any changes right away. Perhaps I’ve seen too many sci-fi movies, but I am not all that keen to find out we slid back down that curve because we got too excited too fast. 

That’s just me. I’m older, I’m self-employed and I have an autoimmune disease as well. I don’t expect everyone will follow my example or even understand it. I am just hoping that we can all respect each other’s positions as things open up and we have to be around each other with our own different comfort levels. 

The social experiment on which we are embarking is going to require all our patience, consideration and generosity of spirit to make it not only successful but pleasant. If ever there was a time to pause and reflect – take a breath and think before you act – it is now.

The timing at least is good. Mother’s Day is upon us, and what better example than the many women role models who exemplify calm strength (often in times of stress), and deep love (even in moments when people may not behave toward them in a loving fashion). We can pause and reflect on how best to show them we can follow in their footsteps.

Canadians are known for being polite and considerate, kind and easygoing. We generally look out for each other and have a strong sense of community. Let’s all remember that if we head out to shop or eat or gather with a group.

Please, be polite and considerate to all those working in this new world. Be kind to others around you and easygoing about their differences. Watch over others and remember we are all in this together. 

We can take solace in knowing our community has gotten a good start on this pandemic. We can also pause and reflect, being grateful for what we have and not taking it for granted.



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A week's worth of meals

In ordinary times, I would write about the traditions of May Day around the world, celebrating the advance of spring and in France a holiday for workers. But these are not ordinary times. Additionally, since there is another meaning of the expression, I thought I’d take heed from that and do my part to help.

I’ve spoken in recent columns about feeling the challenge of being able to share, and about feeling useful in a time of great need. Staying home just didn’t seem to be enough. It finally dawned on me that doing my part is doing what I can. As a food geek, that means sharing food, or ideas on what to do with it. 

When my cousin sent me a desperate message via Facebook this week saying, “my creative spoon is struggling,” I decided I should answer the call to battle. This week I’m offering a whole week of meal planning, using the kind of meals that can be made up easily and quickly. 

I’m also including a pantry list, to help you keep a par stock of ingredients, so you have plenty of options.

Your pantry stock helps you make many basic recipes without shopping and keeps you prepared for last-minute changes or inspiration. Especially in a time of minimal trips to the store, having these goodies on hand is a great stress-reliever.

PANTRY BASICS

  • Baking soda
  • Baking powder
  • Vanilla extract 
  • Cinnamon
  • Ground ginger
  • Sea salt
  • Peppercorns
  • Olive oil
  • Lemons (at least two)
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • White wine or apple cider vinegar (both if you wish)
  • Dried oregano
  • Cumin 
  • Chili powder and /or curry powder (to your taste)
  • Dried thyme or herbes de Provence
  • Eggs
  • Butter
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Garlic cloves
  • Onions (one yellow, one red)
  • Rice
  • Dry pasta (enough for one meal for the household)
  • One litre stock (vegetable or chicken are most adaptable)
  • Coconut milk
  • Tabasco or similar hot sauce
  • Dijon mustard
  • Yogurt or sour cream
  • Honey 
  • Dark chocolate (chips will do, or a quality bar 200 grams)
  • Popcorn (or potato chips – just for sanity’s sake)

Once you have your pantry stocked, your grocery shopping is simpler, and you can make a few meals even when you have “nothing in the fridge.”

When planning for a week, we always look at preparing one dinner that provides us with leftovers that make another meal. If plans change, these leftovers can usually be frozen for later use. We also look at a few breakfast or brunch ideas that are more on the hearty side; starting the day with a bigger meal can mean lunch is more of a snack or maybe even not needed.

A WEEK’S WORTH OF MEALS

Breakfast or brunch ideas can include baked items (these can be made ahead on a day off and warmed up, remember). Cinnamon buns with some fruit salad make a great start to the day, as do biscuits with cheese and jam – or ham, if you prefer. Yogurt parfaits are a fun break from cereal. Breakfast burritos will likely take you all the way to dinner or could be dinner one night. Recipes can be easily Googled, or found using a recipe app like Yummly, if needed.

Here are seven more suggestions:

Meatloaf or Burgers with your choice of ground meat (or veggie protein) – season as you like, make a sauce that fits your theme, and serve with roasted veggies that cook at the same time. *Leftover veggies and cooked ground meat can be used in an omelette (for breakfast or dinner) or quesadillas.

Buddha Bowl – go vegetarian: use a grain base like quinoa, farro or rice; top with chopped veggies, toasted nuts or seeds, fruit if you like (dried or fresh) and/or cheese or legumes for protein. Top with a dressing that has plenty of flavour to make it all sing.

Grilled cheese sandwiches – kick them up a notch by using more than one kind of cheese and adding a bit of ham or bacon. Make them funky with a spread of chutney or spicy chili sauce. Serve with sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, or soup if you like, to round out the meal.

Grilled fish – buy fresh if you can or look for FAS (“frozen at sea”) for best flavour. Serve with sautéed vegetables that cook as fast as the fish, or a simple salad. The fish can have a squeeze of citrus or a spice rub for flavour. Cook until medium (internal temperature 137 F) and it will be tender and moist.

Dinner Salad – think “kitchen sink” here: any and all greens are good (we love arugula and spinach for flavour), any veggies you have, canned tuna, cheese or cooked bacon or ham for protein if you wish. Make the salads on a dinner plate to get the right amount (everyone can build their own if you like). The sky’s the limit with dressing – Google your heart out for ideas.

Roast Chicken or Pork Tenderloin – here’s another main dish that offers leftovers. Serve with fried rice, baked potatoes or couscous and call this your fancy meal. Chutney or sauce that’s open in the fridge can accompany roasted meat at dinner or in a sandwich. Serve those warm if the meat is warm for added flavour.

Pasta – so many types and so many sauce ideas, it’s mind-boggling. Mix up your styles from week to week – a pasta casserole, then simple noodles with tomato sauce, then maybe alfredo with peas… Make Jamie Oliver’s fresh-made pasta – it takes a few minutes with only flour and water and will knock everyone’s socks off.

So, there you have it. Thank you for letting me share what I can. I hope it helps make your week a bit easier. One last tip for you – at our house, when it’s salad for dinner, that means it’s ice cream for dessert. We all deserve a treat now and again. (Just remember to add your favourite flavour to your grocery list.)



More Happy Gourmand articles

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About the Author

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

Kristin says:

"Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that 'sense of place' from where the food has come . . . the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had."

 

E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com

 



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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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