I don't mean to gloat, but I am posting from Cozumel this week.
We have seen the groans and cries of exasperation posted on Facebook by friends and family, and I'm here to tell you the best thing is to make the most of it.
If you can't get away literally, do it virtually.
Escapism shouldn't be a way of life, but we need to tune out once in a while. A good movie or book works for most, and for us foodies, a good meal can transport one to another place.
But in extreme cases (like two feet of snow in the yard), more drastic action is required.
I have five simple steps to set the scene:
- Turn up the heat. Like to 80F.
- Put something summery on: your favourite Hawaiian shirt or sun dress, or even a bathing suit and wrap. Bare feet definitely. The heat should be high enough that you are still comfortable.
- Pour yourself a tropical drink. Mango juice, coconut water, or even a margarita if you can manage it. You'd be surprised how fast you will feel like smiling once you have a slushy drink on your hand.
- Put on Bob Marley, or some salsa music. Jimmy Buffet works too. Turn it up so you really feel the beat.
- This is the most important step: Close the blinds. You don't want to spoil your mood by looking out and seeing winter. If you want to splurge, buy some flowers or a plant and put it in front of the window. If you need to have your phone close by, change the screensaver to a beach. It will remind you to stay in character.
Now, of course, you need a tropical meal. I suppose you could just order a Hawaiian pizza, but since we are working on being engaged in the escape, let's think more actively.
I'll make it easy with three different ideas for you to try. Either try one or occupy your whole weekend with all three.
Tacos and/or tostadas
- Cook up your favourite meat or fish (or even black beans if you want vegetarian) with some garlic and onions.
- Add cumin, chile powder, oregano and salt and pepper. (If you use a taco seasoning kit, think to add more spice to kick it up a notch. You want it to have punch!)
- Add chopped fresh cilantro at the end if you like it. Serve with taco shells and/or tostadas (the flat crispy tortillas you can buy in a long bag).
- Include an assortment of toppings: avocado, shredded lettuce, grated cheese, pickled jalapeños, and a variety of hot sauces.
Dirty Banana Cocktail
In case you are not the cook in the family, here's a beverage component (makes two drinks).
- In a blender, mix 1 cup ice/ 6 ice cubes, 1 cup milk (almond or coconut milk can be substituted), 2 oz dark rum, 2 oz Kahlua, 2 oz Jamaican rum cream or Baileys, 1 banana.
- Blend until smooth and pour into funky glasses.
Tropical Delight Cookies
This was a recipe I created long ago after a foiled effort to escape a Calgary winter. If you're more of a baker than a cook or if you want a taste that will last longer than one meal, this is a perfect option. (Just click on the name for the full recipe from my blog).
I hope this helps chase the winter blues away or at least keep them at bay.
Remember, we are never given more than we can handle. It's just better to handle it with a smile.
Ever since Martin and I got together 20 years ago, we have had a standing date night every week.
Tuesday is our night for dinner and a movie; it’s date night.
It helps that Tuesday is the cheap night to see a show, and we don’t always go out for the dinner part of the evening, but we make it a commitment to spend the time together.
I know some of you might say that it’s just as easy to sit on the couch and stream something at home, but we like to make a date of it to break up the monotony of every-day life.
Sometimes we just have a quick sort of dinner on movie nights:
- corned beef sandwiches with homemade coleslaw
- naan bread pizzas with leftover chicken
- grilled veggies and cheese
- a dinner salad, with lots of veggies, toasted pumpkin seeds, maybe a bit of tuna or salmon.
We sit down and enjoy the meal together, then we head out in time for the early evening show. Now that we are middle-aged, we need to remember that staying up till midnight on a “school night” makes us tired and cranky.
If you are more of a young blood, I’m sure you could manage the late show.
About once a month, we go all out, dressing up a bit and enjoying a bite to eat before the show. We like to try out the local restaurants, and having a light nosh before the show means we still leave room for popcorn.
I have made a small list below of some of our Westside picks for movie night nibbles.
There are many more in Kelowna as well; I encourage you to be adventurous and try one that’s new for you, on either side of the bridge.
Within range of the Landmark Encore in Westbank:
Sukho Thai – a large selection of flavourful dishes in true Thai style. From inside you wouldn’t think you are on the edge of the highway, either.
La Cucina – they have good Italian wood-fired pizzas, and it’s right across the street from the theatre
19 Okanagan Grill & Bar – this restaurant is part of Two Eagles golf course, with some lovely views. They have some fun appies and good burgers. I love their quinoa salad.
MOMO Sushi – friendly staff and lots of choices for freshly made sushi at this location next to the theatre. It’s often busy on Tuesdays though, so allow enough time.
Downtown Kelowna and Westside near the Landmark Extreme:
Blu Saffron Bistro – the restaurant at Volcanic Hills Winery does private events too, so call ahead this time of year. Their sharing plates and appies are a bit more exotic, such as duck wings and Thai green mussels.
Yamato – in the mall where the theatre is, offering a range of Japanese fare. The pho (soups full of good stuff) are delicious, and we like their gyoza and green papaya salad. It’s another place that can be very busy on Tuesday. (Of note, their other location is not far from the Grand theatre, on Highway 97)
Old Vines Restaurant – the restaurant at Quails’ Gate can warrant an entire evening, but they do have some small plates and sharing plates available if you want a wine country experience. Just be prepared to decide to skip the movie if you’re having too much of a good time to leave.
Just in case you are stumped for which movie to choose, I thought I’d offer my two cents on some picks that we gave two thumbs up:
- La La Land: Yup, it’s a chick flick, but with jazz. If you ever loved an old musical, or wanted to, this is a wonderful update of the genre.
- xXx: The Return of Zander Cage offers more action for the fellas, and some humour to keep the gals interested.
- Fantastic Beasts or Rogue One are a bit more of a gentle escape, if that’s what you’d like. Both are well worth seeing on a big screen.
There are other acclaimed films out there that we haven’t seen yet, too, like Fences and Lion. I must admit that for a romantic date night, I don’t like too many tears, and I am not a fan of horror flicks, but if that’s your thing, go ahead and make your date’s knuckles white from hanging on tight.
You can take my suggestions, or not. There is one ultimate secret to our dinner and a movie Night. It’s kind of like the old slogan, really… Just do it.
This is a night that we count as a date. Some nights, it is just nice to get out of the routine of work, home, chores, dogs – all the trappings of everyday life.
Other nights we really go for broke and dress up and talk of holidays and dreams and other stuff that is so very much not everyday conversation. On the way home, we are like Siskel and Ebert with our reviewer’s comments, and we laugh or shake our heads at what we liked, or didn’t.
It all creates shared memories that we have added to the repertoire over the years. It is the stuff of life that makes us remember how much fun we have together. I highly recommend it.
See you at the movies.
I often tell kids that they need to keep trying foods because their taste buds grow just like the rest of them.
But it’s much harder to convince adults to be adventurous eaters. You’ve heard the saying, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?"
Well, you can, but it’s sometimes an uphill battle. Nevertheless, I keep at it. There is also that saying about an old dog with a bone, remember? You can acquire new tastes, and they can be pleasant experiences.
It might be warming up outside, but we are still in comfort-food mode, so that usually means we aren’t thinking about salad and healthy snacks.
This week, I’m going to offer a few ideas to try to switch up the foods we keep in our comfort zone and the heavy, rich, albeit yummy, foodstuffs of winter. A few quick ones, and a few projects – all designed to be fun, and even possible to share in the making and the eating.
Bear with me, and if you do try any of these, I’d love your feedback (good or bad). Let me know your thoughts, your tastes, send me your pictures. You can send an email, or post on the Happy Gourmand Facebook page.
We have natural preferences around our eating habits, and we should respect those if we are venturing out for new tastes. I wrote recently on my blog about Sweet vs Salty.
Did you know you are genetically predisposed to prefer one over the other? If you have a sweet tooth, how about using that to your advantage?
Don’t think of dessert, but think of making a salad dressing with a bit of honey or maple syrup that can be put on a salad composed of new ingredients. Like, maybe a Thai salad that could use some leftover chicken, beef or pork – or even be vegetarian if you want?
This is an easy one for everyone to help with, chopping and mixing.
Certainly, what we ate while growing up makes a difference in what we like and are used to as well.
Part of that is culture, part of it is environment (if you grew up on a farm, you are likely more familiar with fresh-from-the-field items, for example. But we can step outside our comfort zone, and many exotic tastes are more common now.
Think of something unusual that you like – maybe it’s hot sauce, or soy sauce, or cilantro… Maybe it comes from a culture or style of cooking. If so, why not try another dish from that part of the world? Or you could try a different dish with a sauce that you like.
When my stepdaughter was little, she liked pesto with pasta. She didn’t like salmon much, but if we slathered it in pesto and baked it, salmon was not so bad.
Tapenade is another great spread that has many applications. Try it on a chicken breast, or with pasta, add some tomato sauce if you like and presto, you have an easy dinner that’s full of flavour.
If you want to impress guests, try this upscale appetizer, courtesy of my wonderful hubby, The Chef Instead.
Cashew Pesto Baked Brie
750 g of Canadian Brie - serves 6-8 people
- 150 g Peeled Garlic
- 250 ml Basil Leaves, packed solid Note: Basil can be mixed half and half with parsley for a cheaper version full of flavour.
- 125-175 ml Olive Oil
- 100 g Parmesan Cheese
- 250 ml Cashews unsalted (you could substitute walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts or almonds if you like – all cheaper than pine nuts)
- Pinch of Salt & Pepper to Taste
- 400 g of Puff Pastry (1 package)
- 1 egg, beaten
Process into a fine paste all the pesto ingredients and divide in 2 portions.
Cut your piece of brie in half horizontally and stuff it with one half of your pesto inside and the other half on the top to end up with a brie/pesto/brie/pesto sandwich.
Roll out the puff pastry, not too thin, and place the stuffed brie in the middle. Fold the pastry over the top like a gift, closing it up while brushing the package very well with the beaten egg to seal all the brie inside. Flip it over on a baking sheet and baked at 375F until golden brown outside.
(This will take approximately 20-30 minutes, watch it so it doesn’t brown too fast. If it browns before 15 minutes, cover the top with foil and keep cooking at least 5 more minutes.)
Remove to a serving platter or wooden board, and let cool for just a few minutes. Cut wedges with a sharp knife and serve like a pie.
TIP: If you cut into it and find it needs more melting inside you can microwave it for 2 minutes.
Best served with fruit Chutney, Raspberry Coulis and/or Balsamic Vinegar Onion Confit (or your favourite savoury condiment from the fridge, at room temperature for best flavours.)
Lastly, how about something as simple as a new spice? Start slow and work with small changes first – instead of using oregano, how about trying thyme, or a blend of the two? If you make chili, try using a bit of smoked paprika along with your chile powder.
In a simple vinaigrette (oil and vinegar) or on sautéed vegetables, try adding a Middle Eastern spice mix called zaatar (made with thyme, sumac and sesame seeds – you can Google a recipe if you can’t find it).
Want the kids to take part in a new taste experiment? How about adding flavours to yogurt or oatmeal in the morning? (It could be on the weekends if school days are too hectic, not to worry.)
Instead of buying a processed flavour, get the plain one and add your own ingredients (set a limit at 3 or 4 so the flavours don’t get too confusing). Here’s my top 10 list of ideas:
- Fruit (chopped bananas, grated apple, mango, pineapple, kiwi, berries…)
- Shredded Coconut
- Chopped nuts
- Raisins (or other dried fruits)
- Cinnamon (or nutmeg, or ground ginger, or cardamom)
- Maple syrup (or liquid honey)
- Chia seeds
- Pumpkin seeds (especially good if you toast them first)
- Sunflower seeds
- Granola (if you want to stick to homemade, try toasting oatmeal in a pan with a bit of butter or oil and a sprinkling of brown sugar or honey)
- Now, get out there and exercise those tastebuds. Let’s get our palates in shape for an exciting year of flavour.
Everyone is worried about being healthy these days, checking calories and watching their consumption of junk food and processed products.
Did you know there is a snack out there that in its pure form is nutritious and low calorie, non-GMO and without sugar? Even fruit has natural sugars, but good, old-fashioned popcorn fibre and carbohydrates and is even gluten-free.
Two tablespoons of kernels will make four cups of popcorn, which has 120 calories.
I bet you’re saying, “Who knew?!”
Well, wait until I tell you some of the history of this amazing little snack food. As a dedicated movie goer, I figured a little tribute was in order, you see, as Jan. 19 is actually considered Popcorn Day.
Did you know that popcorn has been around for thousands of years? Pre-Columbian indigenous peoples used it extensively.
When explorers discovered the Americas they saw popcorn for the first time, Hernando Cortes recorded in 1519 that the Aztecs he encountered not only ate it, but also used it as a decoration and in tribute to their gods.
French explorers near the Great Lakes met Iroquois that were making popcorn in a heated pottery container buried in sand. And yet, interestingly enough, it was not until the 1800s that American culture records eating popcorn.
At first, it was ground and eaten as a breakfast cereal (Mrs. Kellogg apparently enjoyed it most mornings before her husband invented Corn Flakes. No kidding.)
In 1848, the word popcorn was included in an American dictionary, as popping the kernels was becoming more popular.
The first poppers were just wire cages with a long handle that were held over a fire. Charles Cretors adapted his street cart technology for roasting nuts to popping corn in 1885.
His family business is still where most movie theatre poppers are bought (along with most other concession machines). His great grandson, also named Charlie, will tell you all about their history if you visit their website.
Popcorn seemed to inspire the creative entrepreneurial nature in many people. Louis Ruckheim would never have made his fortune with Cracker Jack if he hadn’t had popcorn as a base ingredient.
His product and plain popcorn were the first movie snacks hawked by independent sellers in movie theatres at the turn of the 20th century.
You see, movie theatre owners thought popcorn was an “unnecessary nuisance” and would detract from the movie experience.
As the Great Depression made things tougher for most people, popcorn became one of the few “affordable luxuries” that could be enjoyed on an outing.
Theatre owners only gave in little by little, at first charging vendors a dollar a day to sell popcorn outside the theatre (in those days, the popcorn sold for five to ten cents a bag).
In 1938, a fellow named Glen W. Dickson saw the wave of the future and renovated his Midwest theatres to include indoor concessions. He never looked back.
During the Second World War, when sugar rationing became the norm, the consumption of popcorn increased threefold.
Of course, you can get popcorn at home too. Jolly Time was the first brand available in grocery stores in 1914. (Orville Redenbacher didn’t show up until 1970).
Overall, in both Canada and America, the per person consumption of popcorn is about 43 quarts per year (there are four cups in a quart).
You’re skeptical, I can tell.
I have covered the idea that this is a whole grain snack made simply for easy enjoyment. But many people get caught up in the argument about genetically modified food, as the corn used for animal feed and many products we consume is often at the top of that list.
However, from my research of various sources I always got the same answer: the type of maize that is popcorn is currently not nor has it ever been genetically modified in North America.
There is also no awareness of it having been modified anywhere internationally. Isn’t that interesting?
Not any corn can be popcorn, it’s a certain type with specific qualities – notably the hard shell and specific moisture level (it’s the moisture expanding as steam when the kernels are heated that makes it pop).
Don’t you feel better now? So, with Popcorn Day coming soon, and the Oscars right behind it, here’s your chance to keep up if you think you’re down on your popcorn consumption.
After all, it’s a whole grain, a good, old-fashioned healthy snack.
There are also offers for other nights that apply to seniors and kids and students. Check out their sites at the links above for details.
If you’d like a new twist on the old favourite, here’s a fun exotic popcorn recipe I found on the U.S. Popcorn Board’s website. (It’s a fun resource if you want to try more recipes, or your kids need to do an essay on something fun.)
Coconut Curry Cashew Popcorn
Makes 10 cups Preparation time: 45 minutes
- 10 cups popped popcorn
- 2 cups cashews
- 1/2 cup flaked coconut
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 honey
- 1 tablespoon mild curry powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Place popcorn, cashews and coconut in a large bowl; set aside.
2. Heat butter, sugar and honey in a medium saucepan. Stir mixture over medium heat until it begins to boil. Boil 2 minutes without stirring. Remove from heat and stir in curry powder and baking soda (mixture will foam).
3. Pour syrup over popcorn mixture in bowl and stir until evenly coated. Pour mixture onto a large, rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan lined with foil and sprayed with nonstick spray. Bake 30 minutes, stirring twice during baking time. Stir mixture a few times as it cools on baking sheet. Store in an airtight container.
More Happy Gourmand articles
- January Blues? Cheer up! Jan 7
- Auld Lang Syne Dec 31
- God bless us every one Dec 24
- Nuts at Christmas Dec 17
- Top 10 cookie-making tips Dec 10
- Tasting old memories Dec 3
- You can make a difference Nov 29
- The night jingle music died Nov 19
- Let them eat cake Nov 12
- Pleasure principle gone wild Nov 5
- Another 50 Shades of Grey Oct 29
- KGH makes scary decision Oct 22