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Happy-Gourmand

2 decades of food and drink

This weekend, Martin and I celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary.

In reflecting upon that time, we have reminisced over many adventures shared in all the years of living together, not to mention all the memorable meals we have enjoyed. 

If you will allow me a little indulgence, I shall share some of our favourites with you:

We met because of food. Both of us worked for a movie-catering company, and although you could say it was simple statistics that threw us together, I like to think it was our passion for food that lit the fire we have now. (But we were the only single people in the company and with no time to meet anyone else, that did point us in the right direction.) 

I think my favourite crazy memory of movie-crew cooking was the night we made sushi for 125 people. There was rice everywhere, but we managed to make a platter that was the size of a small dining room table, three levels high.

They ate every single piece, along with the six salads, 200 gyoza, and 260 custard tarts we made from scratch. Those were the good old days.

Once the movie business slowed in Vancouver, we moved on to other projects. That left more time for cooking at home, and we loved to entertain friends.

The year our South African pals came for Christmas was the year Martin started smoking meat; he cooked the turkey outside in December. It snowed just enough as he cooked to really impress our guests.

We moved to Banff, and there wasn’t much of a kitchen in our tiny apartment, but we had a few spectacular meals at the four diamond Banffshire restaurant in the Banff Springs, where we worked.

Martin led the team of young cooks that hosted a gargantuan buffet spread daily, and I took up my sommelier studies while managing the smaller food and beverage outlets. It was fun to be part of such a huge hospitality family.

We moved to Quebec to work at another Fairmont hotel, and I experienced many of the local specialties. I was treated to sugar pie and tourtière and “poor man’s pudding” (a concoction that is part cake, part sauce and all comfort).

We had cheeses galore, and pork in every way imaginable. I have never been so cold or eaten so much rich food. Quebec was all about the extremes.

In the Okanagan, everything came together. I had great experiences working with the wineries, and have enjoyed working on my own, too.

As The Chef Instead, Martin can cook with his guests watching and learning, and we have so many lovely local specialties he can feature. My garden grows whether I like it or not, so ideas abound for new meals. 

We often sit at the table and reminisce over past meals from our travels, or times we have shared with friends. Barbecues while watching fireworks in Vancouver, snacks at the Borough Market in London, doughnuts in New York… we have been very fortunate.

We celebrated our anniversary early, since summer holidays are virtually impossible in our work (except during a pandemic – who knew?) 

We made plenty of memories last fall on our trip to Africa:

  • Breakfast of fresh pastries on a rooftop in Marrakech
  • Midday snack of almonds and raisins with mint tea in the Sahara after dismounting our camels
  • Sunset patio dinner of local Atlantic seafood with dear friends. 

All these moments were fitting memories for a platinum anniversary. On the day itself, we will be quietly contemplating how fortunate we have been to share so much – and planning more memories for the next
20 years… starting with what’s for dinner next week.



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Perfect time to picnic

It’s official – school is done and the solstice has past (did you see the live stream of sunrise at Stonehenge?). Summer is here. It’s time to plan on getting out and doing important things. You know, like getting ice cream, spending the day at the beach, or going on a picnic.

We are excited, Hubby and me. This weekend we have not only planned a picnic by the lake, but also an evening at the drive-in theatre. As regular readers will know, we are serious movie buffs and our traditional date night is to go to the cinema. Tuesday nights have not been the same since the pandemic hit.

Now that phase 3 of the re-opening of society has been implemented, the movie theatres will be open for business again. I do wonder if people will go, or if the habit of streaming everything at home has become to comfortable a habit. The drive-in though, has even more symbolism and tradition attached to it. 

Maybe I am hoping it will be like a time warp, and my time there will let me forget today’s crazy world and be transported to days gone by? I would not be disappointed if that were the case.

So, as I ponder our first official celebration of summer, I wonder if I should have a retro picnic menu or something more modern? We are going to see “Grease” at The Starlight. Maybe I’ll wear my poodle skirt…

You might be the kind of person that loves an old-fashioned picnic; a recent study showed that 58% of people still love a sandwich at their picnic, even if it is on pita bread or focaccia. Or perhaps you prefer a tapas-style spread, with plenty of options to munch on. My humble advice is don’t try too hard – it doesn’t have to be Instagrammable. It’s the memory that counts, not the number of likes.

Here are my top tips:

ATMOSPHERE – Create a bit of a theme or feeling to your picnic. If it’s a simple blanket on the grass, then you want an easy menu like sandwiches and cookies with some fruit that is ready to eat. If you plan on having a table, then setting out dips and a cheese platter is more manageable with a steady base off the ground. A vinyl tablecloth comes in handy for these picnics, as well as linen napkins and plastic or enamel plates and spare cutlery. (Washing & reusing is nicer than plastic, and the planet will thank you.)

MENU – I like to think about variety, so I plan using “three” as my guide. Three tastes: e.g. a sandwich and condiments (pickles or veggies), a side (potato chips or a fun salad), and a dessert (cookies or bars and/or fruit). Some ideas for you with recipe links are below.

LOCATION – Always important, and it should go with your theme. Your blanket picnic probably requires only a field or park and maybe a frisbee. Somewhere there is a table that should have shade to some degree; a bit of a view would be nice, no? Or you can be like us and combine a picnic with a day’s outing, so your location might be a spontaneous stop (easy enough to do in the Okanagan with all our lovely vistas and plenty of parkland).

I hope those few suggestions get you motivated to find your picnic basket, and I’m sure you have your own favourites you want to include. Teddy bears are optional, but there can never be too many pals at a picnic.



No matter how you slice it, bread is important

For the love of bread

There were plenty of jokes about bread being made as soon as the pandemic lockdowns started. 

Why was it that suddenly the food people wanted to make was bread? Maybe it is because there is an historic connection, a symbolism for bread that encompasses much of what we consider important and precious.

Bread has existed since the dawn of civilization, in various forms across the world. As grains were cultivated for agriculture to provide a regular supply of food, people stopped their nomadic lifestyle and settled down in towns. No wonder bread is often considered a comfort food.

In the beginning there was only sourdough bread. Did you know commercial yeast has only existed for about 150 years? Perhaps the recent surge in sourdough baking was a way to go back to our roots, a search for a connection to simpler times. 

We still use the expression of “breaking bread” to signify sharing not just a meal but a convivial atmosphere. Even though there is a literal meaning of sharing food around a table, the implied meaning represents the acceptance of a shared commitment to each other as a common group.

I love traditions and symbols. I enjoy learning about those from other groups, and I have done my best to keep those alive that are a part of my heritage. Again, there is that sense of connection that I, and many others, cherish. I am happy breaking any kind of bread, just for the chance to learn.

Do you have any idea how many traditional breads exist across the world? Enough that you can bake for a long time and not run out of new recipes to try – and then we could talk for ages about how to eat it. If you’re only thinking about French toast or grilled cheese sandwiches, you’ve barely sliced through the surface. 

I did an online baking class this week, learning to make babka and challah, traditional Jewish breads. These are the same basic dough, both braided before baking. Babka has a filling added to it for extra fun. Challah is traditionally served on the Jewish Sabbath and other holidays. 

As much fun as learning to prepare the dough and master the braiding and twisting was to hear the stories that go with these breads. The number of braids can mean something, and when a large recipe is made, a piece is torn off to be baked separately as an offering or tithe. Babka (which means “Grandmother”) is said to be an inventive variation created by grandmothers with dough that was left over when making challah.

I realized that the stories, just like the bread, were symbolic of our connections to each other. Even though I was at home, watching on the screen with others from around the world, we were all connected by this same dough. We all felt a sense of camaraderie as we mastered that six-strand challah, and we shared our joy as we shared our decadent babka loaves in their tins. I was part of a tribe.

Bread might not be your thing. I must have an ancient gene, as I adore its simple elegance and amazing utility. I was intrigued to learn that bread was considered as essential as dishware in medieval times, with a slice called a trencher used as the base for your dinner instead of a plate. At the end of the meal you might choose to eat it… or give it to the poor, or to the dogs.

Any way you slice it – life or bread – you need to have something that keeps you connected. So, I am going to keep baking, even as the world opens up again. (Yes, I know that could be called a rationalization, but I am fine with that.)

If you’d like to join me, here’s a recipe for challah along with instructions on how to braid it.



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Some foods for thought

One of my inspirations for learning languages in school was to better understand the culture that went with them. I discovered a key component of culture was food and how people consumed it. 

That is how I became a foodie, one who wanted to be a bit of a culinary historian, sharing the stories of food within our world.

I wanted to offer some examples this week of how food can educate us about history and encourage us to learn more about other people and their culture. A bit of curiosity goes a long way to helping us bridge the gaps of understanding that so often exist and grow over time. 

One intriguing recipe I saw recently was for Afghan Biscuits from New Zealand. These crunchy, chocolatey cookies are a long-standing favourite in New Zealand going back almost 100 years, but why they are called Afghans is a mystery. 

Some folks suggest the cookie shape suggests Afghanistan’s craggy landscape, with cornflake bits representing the rocky slopes and the chocolate topping and whole walnut like the prevalent mountains.

A possible but certainly less politically correct explanation is that the cookie represented the enemy from New Zealand’s involvement as a British colony in the Anglo-Afghan wars beginning in 1839 – an Afghan male with the walnut being his turban. It is possible the cookies were made for wartime care packages – not a great way to “bridge the gap” between the two sides, for sure.

There are many cases of dishes being popular despite a cruel origin story, often to the point of few people remembering the story. In my humble opinion, one way we can move our society forward positively is to talk about those dishes and bring their history back. The ensuing discussions will likely be controversial, but maybe sharing the food can help us get through?

A controversial dish here in Canada is bannock. Can we call it Canadian, or is it an Indigenous specialty? Its origins are in Scotland – it was the fur traders and settlers that brought their recipe and ingredients here – but it became a staple for many Indigenous populations during colonization. Bannock has become a popular dish today with many First Nations chefs preparing sweet and savoury versions. 

The original First Nations recipe for a similar dish, called sapli’l, used a plant bulb as the base ingredient. The Scots used oats and the current version is made with wheat flour. The recipe evolved; perhaps our understanding of the history can, too. If you’d like to try bannock, support a local First Nations business and stop by Kekuli Cafe on the Westside or in Merritt. 

Every dish we eat, every ingredient we include in our cooking, has a history that is entwined in the culture of its place. If “terroir” is the sense of place that we taste in food, what do we call it when we ensure we appreciate the significance of our food’s story? We say “food for thought” but perhaps it is more about giving a thought for our food.



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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