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Happy-Gourmand

Hindsight in 2020

Isn’t it funny how things work out? When I was a kid, I never would have guessed that I would become a Foodie.

We ate simple food, I thought, and my parents told me more than once that we were not rich, so I knew I was not destined for a life of caviar and champagne. 

We did spend a lot of time around the dining room table, so I suppose that should have been a clue, but then, we spent a lot of time together as a family.

I remember a family friend saying once that if you looked at the Peturson family photos, you would think all we did was give presents and hug. I do remember many joyful celebrations.

It’s funny too, where life takes you and how convoluted the route can be when you look back. As I look back on this year now that is nearing the end, I am amazed at the unique memories I have made and how I have adapted with some new habits.  

There is irony, I know, in having a worldwide pandemic be the reason many of us reached out to loved ones far and wide to reconnect more often.

Although we have missed out on many hugs, and quite possibly some presents, we have been reminded of how important our circle of support is in keeping us whole. It is a bit poetic, don’t you think?

In thinking about it, I realize it is the poetic nature of a meal that makes me a Foodie. I love the symmetry of how different ingredients come together, and the harmony of a great meal is not just in the dishes but in even the accompaniments. 

The memory of a meal is based on not the food but the environment in which the food was eaten – who was there and what the ambience was.

The ultimate joy of food memories is that you can have so many of them, as meals are a part of the rhythm of life. I can wrap myself in a blanket of just-baked cookies, birthday dinners, family picnics and barbecue parties and remember the love of many friends and family. 

I know that fatigue is setting in; we are tired of relying on memories, pining for traditions that cannot be upheld. Those meals cannot be shared as much, our rhythm is out of sync. 

We need to look forward for the long haul. There will be a time to bring those traditions to life again with renewed enthusiasm. In the meantime, we need to focus on those new habits and make the most of them. 

Be prepared to seize the moment. Use those video links not just for meetings, but to continue to share a coffee with a friend or a cookie with a loved one.

Take advantage of the holiday season to embrace the spirit of giving in a new way. Doorstop drop-offs or packages in the mail with treats to share, or an invitation to a virtual happy hour will boost your spirits in more ways than one.

Most of all, remember that hindsight is 2020. (Did you see the poetic video done during the spring lockdown? Here’s the link: https://youtu.be/ppv2f1yfwMM.

Soon this year will be in our rearview mirror. When we look back, we can say we learned new ways to make the most out of our lives.

Let us put our hindsight to good use and look forward with enthusiasm to a time when we can embrace our new awareness for what is important with our old traditions.





Feathers and pennies

I was a good student as a youngster. The one subject that tripped me up was physics, and this was often because I got lost in the story of the problem.

You know, as in “if the train is travelling at 35 kilometres per hour and the wind is from the west and it’s Tuesday, what colour are the conductor’s eyes?”

At least it seemed like that is how convoluted they were.

My dad used to make my brother and I think with puzzles, too. I remember him asking, “Which weighs more, 100 pounds of feathers or 100 pounds of pennies?”

There was much discussion about the piles of feathers and pennies, and it took more than a few minutes before I realized the size of the pile was not the point… 100 pounds is 100 pounds.

Why am I rambling about weights and trains? All this is connected to cooking, and I thought it was high time I shared what it took me a long time to learn.

Especially in the global world today where we use recipes from all over the internet, it is important that we remain faithful to their original proportions.

A hundred pounds may be the same amount in pennies or feathers, but a cup of flour is not the same weight (in pounds or grams) as a cup of sugar or a cup of butter.

Here in North America, the recipes we use are mostly listed in cups and teaspoons. In Europe, recipes are listed in grams. When I started baking more than 40 years ago, on the odd occasion we needed to convert there was no mention on the charts I saw about what you were converting.

A cup was 250 grams. Now, I know why some of those recipes didn’t turn out quite as I had hoped.

Using weight is a more accurate way to bake, where science is often crucial in how a recipe turns out. The chemistry of how ingredients change in combination with each other and with the heat of cooking is the key, and proportions are important.

Imagine if you put twice as many Mentos candies in that pop bottle… the reaction is bigger, right?

I am not preaching that everyone needs to get a scale and start weighing all their ingredients. But if a recipe does list weight, you are better off to stick with that system if you can. Similarly, for your Grandma’s shortbread recipe that you bake every Christmas, stick with cups she mentioned when you measure it out. You know it works, no need to change it.

If you do want to make a switch, the best conversion site I have found is Baking Calculators

For crazy cooks like me who are always finding new things to make, here are my suggestions:

  • Buy a digital scale. They are inexpensive and will allow you to work with weights. Especially if you bake bread, it is an especially useful tool.
  • Be gentle with your ingredients and follow recipe directions. If it says sift the flour, do so. If it says pack the brown sugar, do not forget to do that either. And always at least fluff up your flour in the container before you scoop it out. (You can add as much as 20% more flour if you just reach in and take a scoop out of your flour bin.)
  • Check on substitutions before you use them. Sometimes honey will work instead of sugar, or vice versa, but sometimes amounts change and other times the recipe may not turn out as you wanted.
  • Think of recipe websites as you think of movie reviewers or your favourite celebrities. We don’t like all of them. They might not be our style, or maybe they just don’t have much experience and so their methods are not as proven. I like to use sites of bloggers that have a history and groups that test their recipes in their kitchens first.
  • Read through the directions and think about the size and time of the recipe before you start. I speak from harried experiences here, folks. I have been up to my ears in ingredients with a hungry hubby, a messy kitchen and in the end unsatisfactory results. Set yourself up for success. Whenever you can, do a complicated recipe in stages, even days.

In the end, it is all about enjoying the journey. Some of us like the journey more than others, so keep that in mind when you cook.

As we head into the holiday season with even more time at home than usual for most, the urge to bake will be strong, I am certain. Pace yourself. You can always save some ideas for the New Year, or next holiday season.

And if your cookie tins get full, doorstep drop-offs are a handy way to keep your consumption reasonable and make room to bake something else.



Get ready for winter

Winter is coming. That expression is full of foreboding now, thanks to the Game of Thrones stories.

It signifies the need to make preparations ... appropriate for the times, wouldn’t you say?

With colder weather we tend to head indoors and get cozy. This year, our comfort zone inside will be a lonelier one as we make efforts to stay safe. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have any fun. 

Behind the “new normal” of life during COVID times, we have to find manageable ways of keeping a balance. Food is an important part of that. Many more folks have taken up the concept of eating local and seasonal fare, which was easy to do here in the summer.  

We are at the end of the growing season for most things now, but there is still time to enjoy fall tastes.

Fruit crisps (recipe link) and pies are a delightful way to add some indoor sunshine on these shorter days, and veggie soups and stews (Recipe link) can warm our souls. 

Whether you make them yourself or enjoy the fare at local restaurants and bakeries, you will feel better once these goodies are in your tummy.

Want to share? All these things can be easily dropped off in containers for friends who aren’t in your Bubble. If you’re like me with a small household, sharing is the secret to ensuring there is no waste, in addition to connecting with our peeps. 

Eating fresh is a bit more challenging in winter; I’m not suggesting we should have a diet of root vegetables until the gardens sprout again. But keeping in mind the use of local ingredients helps us stay engaged in our diets, even excited about our food. Having a positive attitude during darker days is just as crucial as eating right. 

And then there are the treats. As a self-declared gourmand, I have no problem justifying a bit of indulgence — “a wee something,” as my mentor Pooh called it.

In the winter season these noshes are more likely to be a bit of baking. 

I am including a favourite recipe here that I got from a live baking video during the lock down: Amaretti biscuits.

It’s an easy recipe to make, gluten-free, and very tasty with a cup of tea or coffee - the perfect break in a busy day. These lovely cookies are nice to offer as a gift, too. 

AMARETTI (makes 18)

  • 2 egg whites 
  • 188 g granulated sugar 
  • 300 g ground almonds (found at bulk stores, or you can grind blanched almonds in a food processor)
  • 1-1/2 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp almond extract (the Chef made a specific mention: “please don’t use a bottle that’s been in the cupboard for 10 years”)
  • 100 g icing sugar, for dusting only 

Preheat your oven to 350F. Line a couple of baking trays with parchment paper or silicone mats. 

  • Place the egg whites in a bowl and whisk till frothy, then add in the sugar and whisk until soft peaks are formed. (This takes a few minutes — think of it as a mini workout.)
  • Add the remaining ingredients (“NOT the icing sugar, remember,” Chef said with a smirk). Mix with a spatula until everything is incorporated. 
  • Spread the icing sugar on a plate or tray.
  • Portion the dough into 18 pieces — they will be about 30 g each if you want to be exact. Roll them into balls, and drop the balls onto the icing sugar. 
  • Roll the balls in the icing sugar. Let them sit for about 10 minutes, so they absorb a bit of the sugar. Then roll them again, really working to make a coating of the sugar. (Chef said to “carpet-bomb the balls”). 
  • Carefully place the sugared biscuits on your baking trays, leaving space between them as they will puff out a bit. 
  • Bake for 16 minutes, until golden brown, then take them out and let them cook on a wire rack. Store what you don’t eat that day in an airtight container.

But wait, there’s more. As a bonus, I want to share that the wonderful folks who provided this recipe are back online sharing their baking expertise. Bread Ahead Bakery School in London, England, has restarted their online baking tutorials on Instagram. 

You can join the bakers at Bread Ahead live on Instagram weekdays at 10 a.m. PST, or catch up anytime by watching their IGTV feed. If you want to bake as you watch, the ingredients list is on their website for reference. (You just click on the specific item to see the drop-down list.) 

If you don’t use Instagram, Bread Ahead also has a number of baking tutorials on YouTube. 

I hope all these tidbits offer a ray of hope and good cheer amidst the greyer days of the season.

I am sure many of you are like me, weary of the limits on our quality time and favourite activities. Know that I am raising my cup to you with a smile, sending you good vibes and a virtual hug.

We are in this for the long haul. Let us sustain ourselves so we can get there with our smiles intact.





A good old-fashioned scare

This year has been full of symbols and foreboding. 2020 seems like it was made for Halloween.

There is a meme going around that says there is no need to celebrate, as we have been wearing masks and eating candy for months now. I did laugh, albeit ruefully.

Instead of dwelling on the creepiness of this year, I would rather look back on the good old-fashioned creepiness of the Hallow’s Eve antics from my childhood…

I am old enough to remember a time before Dollar Store costumes and online ordering of licensed products. I grew up on the edge of the Canadian Prairies, where Halloween was often a cold night. It was also darker.

I know I sound like my Dad with his “we walked uphill to school both ways” stories. But honestly, Daylight Savings time used to switch the third week in October and so it was dark sooner.

We made our costumes from what we had at home, with ideas often supplemented by family hobbies or interests.

If your older sibling was into hockey or ballet, it was an easy job to become a hockey player or a ballerina respectively (and both these costumes work over winter coats and snow pants when necessary.)

If you were lucky, you had a Mom that sewed. My Mom was, by her own admission, not an avid seamstress, but she outdid herself for Halloween.

I cherished the leopard suit she made for me when I was little. I am not sure my younger brother liked it as much as me, but he did look cute. And my clown suit was a genius choice, as it grew with me by simply adding a pair of snazzy stockings.

That avoided me suffering the dreaded “Where’s the flood?” joke you heard if your pants were short.

It was easier to have a vivid imagination back then. Before the Internet, everything didn’t already have a visual interpretation. We made up monsters in our head.

Did you know research has shown that what your mind can imagine is usually scarier than what we see on a screen? So, don’t bother closing your eyes during a scary movie.

My Dad was master of scariness. He grew up with two older brothers, so he had been scared plenty as a youngster. He seemed to feel it was his duty to pass on the tradition, and not just at Halloween.

My brother and I would cringe when he disappeared in the house. We knew what was coming… first the dreaded silence. No music, no radio. Sometimes the lights went out too.

Then, just when you thought maybe nothing would happen, you heard it: stomp, drag… stomp, drag… like a creature that had a bad leg. And the breathing….

Heavy sighs, or sometimes groaning, and it was loud. Even as I write this, my heart is speeding up remembering the sounds.

I can only say it was my Dad that did all this because of the stories he told. We never saw him. There was no big “Boo!” as he came down the hall.

Sometimes there was screaming as we ran down the hall to get away. Then a few minutes later it would stop. We would come out from a closet or our rooms and Daddy would be sitting calmly, reading the paper, or having a coffee.

It was like we imagined the whole thing. Imagining that it might not have been him was the scariest part of all.

One year he made a tape of scary noises for Halloween, to entertain the trick-or-treaters. He put the tape in the milk chute (remember those?) We saw hardly any kids that year – they were all too frightened to come to the door.

There were other scary houses in our neighbourhood too, but mostly that was part of the fun.

The fellow who dressed like a mad professor always gave out full-size chocolate bars – a rare luxury in my day. A few parents would make us do tricks, especially as we got a bit older, taking our siblings around. 

We would sing a song or tell a joke and get rewarded with Halloween kisses, or Tootsie Pops, or Rockets (one of my favourites). Many people had coins for our UNICEF boxes, too.

I see lots more princesses now, and plenty of super heroes of course. Movies provide many of the costume inspirations these days. Trick-or-treating is not as common as it once was, but perhaps this year such a natural socially distant activity will flourish.

The kids I see don’t carry pillowcases for their loot, either. I don’t think they travel as far as we did, so I guess a big sack is not needed.

I do hope they still get a good scare somewhere along their route, or perhaps dream of spooky things after having a tummy-full of candy before bed.

A good old-fashioned scare is a good way to help all of us stay aware and keep us grateful for the friends and good fortune we have.



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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