Message in a bottle

We spent two weeks on the Mayan Riviera recently, enjoying the sand and the sea. It was warm, sunny and very relaxing, but also very troubling.

The water and the sky are beautiful shades of azure, but the sand is littered with all kinds of garbage. More than anything else, there were plastic water bottles everywhere.

Both my hubby and I are certified divers and we were thrilled with the diversity of the sea life. Thankfully, the coral reef off the coast of Cozumel is a protected underwater reserve, named for Jacques Cousteau, who first documented the waters in the 1950s.

The dive team who took us out in Playa del Carmen were almost all young French men and women, disciples of Monsieur Cousteau in their passion for underwater conservation and respect for sea life. The mainland with its bigger communities has a bit more infrastructure and maintains a degree of cleanliness (e.g. there are garbage cans in busy areas). 

On the island of Cozumel, it’s much more rural, though. Roadsides are decorated with litter, and any beach away from a resort is awash with debris. We saw plastic water bottles, beer and pop cans, plastic containers and bags, toothbrushes, flip flops … layers of stuff that had washed up from the ocean over time. 

I don’t know how much time it had taken for all those bits to drift onto shore. The island is in the path of many cruise ships (6-8 ships per day stop in Cozumel from November through May).

Many people say some of the garbage comes from the cruise ships. Some may be dropped at the beach. The extra 10,000 people or more who add to the island’s population do add pressure to the environment. There are not lots of garbage cans around, and even if there were I’m not sure there would be manpower to empty them often enough. 

What I do know is that in about 500 metres of beach we picked up more than half a green garbage bag of debris, and that was only what we could easily grab on a windy day with no tools. 

In the midst of our efforts cleaning up, it occurred to me that this effort was just a drop in the bucket – was it really going to make a difference?

Then, I realized that was exactly the point; every little drop in the bucket does make a difference.

Where we sit in the First World, away from a world with dirty beaches, there are few reminders of the damage done. But we are all on the same planet. The First World should be setting a good example. Just recycling is not enough any more; reducing is the name of the game now.

Instead of just putting a plastic water bottle in a blue bin we can use our own bottles — over and over again. Instead of buying individually packaged items, we can put portions in reusable containers. We don’t need to use so many straws.

I saw a video this week made by an artist who wanted to juxtapose the gravity of the situation with the beauty of his art. The sheer volume of plastic bottles he used is mind-boggling. How can we not see the message in the piles of bottles?

I can’t pull at your heart strings by including a picture of a turtle I saw with a beer can tie around his neck. What struck me after seeing those littered beaches was that I shouldn’t have to do that.

I can say that having looked in a turtle’s eyes, I just want to do everything possible to make sure I can see another turtle the next time I go under the waves. 

Seasonal shock therapy?

Springing forward is a great thing once you’ve done it, but I always feel like I was robbed of that hour of sleep on the Monday after.

Usually though, the continuing daylight does take effect and I am reminded of that old John Denver lyric, “Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy….” This year however, I feel as though we are going backward in a weather time machine.

It’s hard to get motivated to look at seed catalogues and plan my gardens when I look outside at the reoccurring blanket of white on the Westside. Big, grey clouds that darken the sky make even my indoor plants seem droopy in despair.

Usually, by now, I find myself drawn closer to the fresh herbs and vibrant-coloured veggies when we shop for groceries. Those comfortable root vegetables are still my friends this year, as I continue to make stews and roast them for hearty salads.

Perhaps this is shock therapy brought on by Mother Nature? Is this last bout of wintery weather meant to make us appreciate spring even more when it arrives next week? Maybe she got wind of the Daylight Savings concept and misunderstood it to mean she should save the sunny days for later.

Whatever the case, I guess we just have to soldier on.

Once a week, we sample a new recipe – sometimes my chef tries out an idea he has for future menus, and other times I have a new taste for us. We need to jolt ourselves into spring, so we will be making a traditional spring dinner we enjoy.

Something about new tastes and new adventures seems to herald spring, just like the wild crocus blossoms we get in our yard and the Canada geese coming back from their winter vacation to start new families.

Since we are such foodies our meals can seem exotic to some: sautéed frog legs with garlic butter and fresh asparagus is not on everyone’s menu.

I can assure you this is a meal worth experiencing, a small town-type tradition in some parts of the world where local boys get paid a few coins each for their catch. Isn’t that a great example of supporting local food?

You might not want to pick up frog legs for Sunday dinner (if you do, they are available frozen at the Oriental Supermarket on Highway 97). I bet you will be dusting off your barbecue soon, though.

In case you need a new one, I asked my hubby for his tips. He is an expert with a charcoal barbecue or grill, but he has used many gas models in his years as a chef.

Even if the snow doesn’t all melt, maybe shovelling a path on the deck and firing up the grill will warm your family up to the idea of spring.

A few tips to help you choose the right gas barbecue.

  • As a general rule, every $100 you spend equals one year of life you get out of your barbecue.
  • Size of your grilling surface is important. Always buy bigger than you need, and that way you can entertain and not be worry about running out of space.
  • Bigger is better! A large barbecue can accommodate different styles of cooking whereas a small grilling surface is more limited.
  • Stainless steel barbecues are worth the extra money. Every part exposed to the rain will rust one day unless it is stainless steel.
  • Cast iron grills and stainless steel are both the best. Anything else is cheap and not that great.
  • I prefer the burners with buttons in the front instead of on the right side as it is much easier to cook with indirect heat using that style.

Any extra adjustments and/or features are a plus but certainly not necessary, including side burners and the rotisserie. 

Natural gas versus propane… well, it is your choice. Obviously, natural gas is very convenient; no more trips to the gas station. Propane burns hotter than natural gas, so make sure to have your machine well adjusted by a professional.

Bottom line, it’s not the machine but the cook that matters. If you wish to get better at barbecuing, practice is the key. Now, don’t practice on your guests, but on your family is fine. Once they stop complaining, you are ready to serve it to your guests.

I have quite a few barbecue recipes on my website so feel free to steal one and take all the credit. 

Happy cooking!

Thoughts of spring sprouting

Continuing on my train of thought from last week, I am blazing ahead with my visualizing of spring.

I know it’s still a bit nippy out there, with grey skies and mucky fields, but never fear, spring is fast approaching.

In case you’re not feeling the warmth of spring in your heart yet, I have a few ideas for you. I’m trying to appeal to everyone here, so I have a few different themes.

Are you an animal lover? Many pets get spring fever, wanting to get outside when the weather starts to warm; however, you may not want to deal with mucky paws after an outdoor adventure. So how about chickens?

What creature symbolizes spring better than a chick? I was fascinated to discover that baby chicks can be shipped (safely) by post. You can lawfully have backyard chickens if you have a lot that is at least half an acre.

In case that is too much of a commitment, there is Rent The Chicken.  

You might think I’m kidding, but these guys will deliver your rental birds for a six-month term, all equipment included. If you chicken out, they will take the birds back – but just think, you could have eight to 14 freshly laid eggs every week.

Maybe you are a gardener. Do you plant according to the moon? (Are you afraid I’ve gone off my rocker?) It really is a thing, you know.

The Farmer’s Almanac has long included best planting dates with the lunar schedule as part of its wisdom. The basic principle is that flowers and vegetables bearing crops above ground should be planted in the days leading up to the full moon, and those bearing crops below ground are planted after the full moon.

Old-time farmers swear that this produces bigger and tastier crops. I for one am going to give it a try this year.

I don’t want to scare people off, so I’ll offer a more straightforward idea as well. Since spring cleaning often means a bit of redecorating and freshening up, how about a lovely bit of home décor? This crafty project could be made or purchased.

Wreaths are a welcome decoration any time of year, and heralding a season is often their purpose. Their circular form gives us that sense of continuity, and being made of greenery they symbolize life. 

Just as a wreath on the door is the first sign of welcome at Christmas, a spring wreath can be a welcome reminder that new things are on the way. I found this article a while back through Lee Valley and I loved the suggested variations presented. 

Whatever your style, your taste of spring can be part of the evolution of the year. Embrace fresh colours in your wardrobe, on your plate, in your home and garden; the vitality will flow to your soul and warm you from the inside, melting winter’s frost.

We all need a Lion's Day

Phew, it’s all but over         

The calendar is about to flip. February will soon be a memory.

It seems to be the month that pretty much everyone is happy to see go. No one says, “TGI-February.”

Even Don McLean said February made him shiver. Did you know the root word, “februo” means “I purify by sacrifice?”

Nothing about that sounds cheery or pleasant.

February days seem colder and darker—even gloomier—than any other days of the year.

Perhaps that’s why we try so hard with food-driven holidays to cheer ourselves up; first with the chocolate and wine of Valentine’s Day, and then with the gourmandise of Mardi Gras, when historically we feast on goodies like donuts and pancakes and party in full swing before beginning the penance of Lent.

In managing to while away the time before spring begins in earnest, we need to have something worthy of extreme concentration. Even in the beautiful Okanagan, those who have not had a break from winter’s cold clutches may be feeling cabin fever by now and they need something special to draw their attention away from yet another cold front.

I propose that we create a new festival on March 1 to celebrate the end of shivery February and the start of the rest of the year. They say March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. Well, perhaps we ought to follow that advice heartily and let loose a heartfelt ROAR to get our blood moving.

With this new “Lion’s Day” in mind, I recommend activities indicative of the day’s namesake. Namely, the activities listed below, taken from a research article on lion habits in South Africa:

Lions are active at night, early morning and towards sunset, although they do sometimes hunt during the day. They are generally lethargic: they exert themselves for short periods and then spend long periods of slow movement or relaxation.

(Despite their apparent obliviousness to their surroundings during resting periods, they can become aggressive quickly if suddenly or unduly disturbed.)

Drinking is a social event and the pride tends to move to water en masse, usually crowding together in the manner similar to that maintained during feeding.

The more I consider this prospect, the more I feel confident that we could emulate this pattern with moderate to full success. It’s important to note we would likely adopt the same protective behaviour of becoming aggressive if someone interrupted our relaxation.

Additionally, I find it interesting drinking and eating are social events in prides. We seem to have fallen upon just the creature to use as a symbol of the good life, don’t you think?

Now, there are many ways we could go from here.

You could take the Disney approach and begin to hum “Hakuna Matata” (which is by the way a real Swahili expression actually meaning “no worries”).

The males in our readership pool may want to find their inner predator and fire up the grill (all you need to do is cook it remember – it is the lioness that does the hunting). 

Or, perhaps you are more the quiet type and would prefer to lurk in the long grass and contemplate your kingdom? Ladies can follow the pride’s tradition of “hunting” in groups.

We don’t have the African savannah, but we do have Orchard Park Mall.

If it’s more “long periods of slow movement or relaxation” you want, then a spa would be a reasonable facsimile, wouldn’t it?

Now that February is almost over, you need not fret; the worst is behind us. Even those who do not want to celebrate with a chunk of meat on the grill but may prefer fresh veggies can also rejoice at the imminent return of farmers’ markets.

We may not have those fresh local items yet, but we could pull something from the freezer or even just revel in the slightly longer days. It all gets better from here on in.

Happy Lion’s Day!

More Happy Gourmand articles

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


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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