I don't know about you, but January puts me in the doldrums. The seemingly endless stretch of grey days, the cold wind, my runny nose... not my favourite time of year, for sure. Now that we have had our New Year's cleanse and we've been to the gym a few times, a little fun can't hurt, can it? Don't we deserve a bit of good cheer? Here in the Okanagan we're not in the throes of a deep freeze but the monotone landscape and short days are not what makes us smile. What better way to warm up a room and our souls than the company of good friends and some heartwarming food!
Martin and I decided that we are going to have a sugar shack party this weekend. If we are lucky, we'll find a patch of clean snow and we can run outside and pour maple syrup on it for that Quebecois delicacy, "tire sur neige". But even if it just remains grey and dreary, we can still huddle up inside with our pals and think about getting out next weekend to burn off the calories we will consume! (More on the details of a sugar shack meal in a future column.)
That brings me to other ideas you can try to help fight off the winter blues…
1. Have an après-ski party (or après-toboganning or après skating) – a few appies are good, or even grilled cheese sandwiches can be fun; you can use imported cheese or grainy bread for a more grown-up theme, or dunk them in bowls of tomato soup if you want to reminisce (that was my favourite childhood thing on a winter day).
2. Take your dog out for an extra walk – many of our four-legged friends get less exercise in the winter too, so they will appreciate it, and their enthusiasm may rub off. Reward yourself afterwards with a nice cup of tea and a piece of winter cheesecake (see below) .
Oreo Cookie Cheesecake
- 10 inch pan, buttered
- 1250 g cream cheese (5pack)
- 2 cups of sugar
- 1 whole lemon juice and zest
- 250ml whipping cream (35%)
- 6 eggs
- 12 Oreo cookies
1. Preheat your oven at 325F.The cheesecake will bake on the middle rack, and you also need a pan with water on the bottom rack to create steam inside.
2. In your food processor, mix together cream cheese, sugar and lemon juice. (A mixer and beaters will work if you don't have a food processor or KitchenAid mixer; just start on lower speed so you don't overtax the machine.) Once you have a smooth mixture, add your cream and eggs by hand in a large bowl.
3. Pour the batter in your greased pan and add 6 to 8 cookies in chopped in pieces all over the pan.
4. Bake until the filling has a uniformed jiggling, around 2 hours but it could take longer.
5. Let it rest in the fridge overnight or for best results, two days. Decorate with fresh whipped cream and the remaining Oreo cookies on top.
Catch up with an old friend – you know, that “Harry Met Sally” thing. Winter is a good time to swap stories with someone you may not see often. Cozy memories will warm you up, and you can commemorate the event with “Pee-can Pie” (you have to say it the way Billy Crystal did in the movie – remember that scene?) As a sidebar here, I will mention that if your old friends are all a world away like mine, you can just as easily send them an e-mail and then cuddle up yourself with a piece of pie. It would be great to send them a piece of pie to enjoy too, but I don’t recommend trying to put Pecan Pie in an envelope!
Pecan & Macadamia Nut Pie
- 11” French metal tart pan
- Pie dough
- 1/2 cup dark corn syrup
- 2 eggs
- 150g chocolate, melted
- 1/2 cup whole pecan, roasted prior
- 1/2 cup macadamia nuts, roasted prior
375F, on the bottom rack so the bottom crust cooks nice and crispy.
1. Roll down your pie pastry and place into your pan.
2. Pre-cook your tart shell for 8 minutes, with egg wash at the bottom to create a seal before you pour your wet batter in it.
3. Warm the corn syrup, add the melted chocolate, vanilla and eggs and stir.
4. Place the nuts on your crust and pour your batter everywhere on top of the nuts.
5. Bake for 35 minutes, but it may take longer. The filling will set when cooked (it will just wiggle a little bit but not slosh around.)
If all else fails, try the “if you can’t beat ‘em” philosophy… watch "Frozen" with the kids and surround yourself with winter images. Or drag out an old winter favourite of mine, “Happy Feet”. It's an infectious movie - you will shudder when the cold wind blows, but your toes will be tapping by the end and you will go out humming a happy tune and thinking a bit of winter can’t be that bad.
Stay warm! Talk to you next week.
(First, I must apologize for leaving my regular readers hanging last week. I was down and out with a cold and couldn't formulate enough coherent thought. Thanks for missing me! If you'd like to read my post-sickie column on my blog, click here.)
As the New Year starts and I see all the resolutions and diet plans and detox kits and gym promos, I have to chuckle and shake my head. Do the marketers think we are that easy to manipulate that we will capitulate to these ready-made packages meant to change our outlook? Are we that malleable?? Is there a limit to the suggestions we will accept for ways to get to Nirvana? You know, that healthy existence that means we exude a Zen-like calm... living in a way that makes our aura the right colour, or makes our hearts beat stronger, or makes us feel years younger. Forgive my January cynicism but I like to think that approaching it all with a long term view tends to reap a much greater success rate. If you still have your gym membership in June, or you are still watching your toxin intake or your calories by the time we get to the beach - well, then your odds are probably in your favour for a generally positive time on the planet. Hopefully if you have kids you're teaching them the same kind of lifelong behaviours.
Ah yes, children. The future of our planet. They need our help in making sure they know how to make the best decisions for long, happy, healthy, engaging lives. (So here's where I get to the sprinkles...) Sometimes we need to coax them along, and although I can't personally say I've experienced the torment of getting my child to do something they should, I do think there need to be limits to what we do. In a recent article posted by some keen parent group (no names as I don't want to pick on people) the list of great healthy snack ideas for your kids included yogurt dip with fruit, peanut butter and banana wraps, and broccoli with sprinkles on it! Come on, people, you can't be serious. I know that life deserves treats like eating dessert first once in a while, but I don't call that a healthy snack. That's like saying that a Big Mac is a healthy burger because it has lettuce and tomato. We're not exactly giving all the information to the young brain in this situation if we teach our kids in this manner. But that said, healthy does not mean boring, yucky-tasting or always full of seedy bits and tofu.
Children are generally keen to learn when they are young; they learn much of their hesitation from us adults. The more you can let your children try new experiences the better their chances to broaden their horizons and their understanding of the world in general. We know that kids learn a new language much faster than adults do. They will also learn new tastes more easily. Don't serve them plain food - sprinkle spices and herbs on it. Get them used to combinations of flavours. And try not to give them all your prejudices; let them decide what they like.
Children's tastebuds are developing constantly as they age, from birth right up to adulthood. As they try solid foods they experience new textures and flavours beyond being breast fed or given formulas. Many of the early foods are sweet, and they are usually associated with the idea that they are a treat, or a reward, hence they become a strong positive experience. In contrast, vegetables are often something kids are made to eat or nagged about. How do you think they then process the experience of eating say, broccoli as compared to apples? Once they hit puberty their hormones also affect how they process tastes. Did you know girls are more sensitive to sweet and sour than boys? Boys need a higher level of sugar for their system to register the taste at the same level of sweetness.
How we shape young people's eating habits and tastes will affect them for the rest of their lives. As we age, we lose our tastebuds and our sense of taste diminishes. Some people get dentures and have medical conditions that can hinder their eating experience as well. It gets harder for many to enjoy their food if they are not healthy too; feeling guilty that you don't eat right can ruin a good meal just as much as a fast food binge.
So please, don't confuse those young tastebuds. Educate them about the full range of food and show them it can all be fun to cook and eat. Broccoli doesn't need sprinkles to be cool! It can be awesome with cheese sauce, or roasted in the oven with spices, or served in a stir fry, or even added to a smoothie! Sprinkles deserve to have their own day in the sun, maybe on a homemade ice cream sundae. (And I do mean make the ice cream - here's a link that doesn't even require you having an ice cream machine.)
It’s that time of year again. Did you make a resolution? Have you resolved to improve on some area of your life? Are you aiming to reach a new goal? I read an article recently entitled “Top Ten New Year’s Resolutions”, so in case you haven’t come up with anything yet, here are a few suggestions to get you started…
1. Manage money better
Well, that didn’t take much to come up with – we all want to get more bang for our buck, don’t we? I don’t think the intention is for us to just work harder on winning the lottery, though – perhaps instead if we tried that trick of freezing all our credit cards in a block of ice we could avoid some of those fees they charge us? Maybe the best thing is just to use cash to pay for everything; but wait, does anyone take cash anymore??
2. Better health
Does that mean we were supposed to get the flu shot, or not? Should we sanitize everything with all those new wipes and cleansers, or is that going to ruin our immune systems against the next super bug that comes along? Maybe we should all just head for the hills, take up yoga and create a commune… Or, I suppose I could just start taking more vitamin D and eating more veggies. I could buy food without any chemicals, preservatives or additives… that should be simple enough, right?
3. Help others
Having just come out of the holiday season we have the spirit for giving… if we can keep up the idea of random acts of kindness, it should all be good. If you have children who are Girl Guides or Boy Scouts, have them remind you of doing a good deed each day. (No really, I’m serious!)
4. Take a trip
That would be nice… again, the lottery tickets could be a big help here. But maybe it doesn’t have to be a trip to Maui or Mexico. Even a weekend away camping or skiing can be a great way to relax and … (see below)
5. Enjoy life more
This is certainly one time when I agree that “more is better”. Always looking to have that cup a little more full is a great philosophy, and I think the best way to start is to remember how full it already is. (A tip for you: if you think this expression should be “Enjoy life”, you need to put it a bit further up the list.)
6. Slow down
This goes right along with #5… it’s easy to enjoy more if you go slower, and not just when you are eating dessert. Not only that, but as my Dad used to say, “slow down, it goes faster” – meaning that if you relax and concentrate, you move along more smoothly (this is especially useful for all you people who like to speed to the red light in traffic).
7. Try something new
This is a nicer way of saying that platitude “Do everything one day that scares you”. Even if your new thing is only a food you have never tasted, what the heck! Your kids will enjoy watching the trepidation on your face as you attempt a new thing instead of them.
8. More time with family and friends
Remember, this is supposed to be a good thing, so start with the people you actually like… then you can apply your random acts of kindness from #3 for some of the ones you don’t get along with, and you may even find you like more of your family than you thought!
9. Reduce stress
If you applied my suggestion in #2, then likely your yoga is helping a lot with the stress… If not, reconsider yoga, or at least a few concentrated hums every day in your work cubicle.
10. Get organized
Didn’t we just do that? Now you’re stressing me out… oh yes and Chef Martin says to clean your freezer all the way to the back where no one never goes!
Seriously though, don’t stress about the New Year. Take the bull by the horns and enjoy every day. Or since it is the Year of the Sheep in the Chinese calendar, perhaps we could remember the qualities of that animal in the Chinese Zodiac: being compassionate, devoted and polite and working well with others.
Here's to a real Happy New Year!
I hope, dear reader, that as you read this you hear the joyous laughter of loved ones and you smell the aromas of a holiday kitchen. Perhaps there are children playing or pets running about, and you are warming your hands with a warm cup of coffee or tea. But what would the holiday be like if you stripped all of that away? Would you still be able to enjoy the company? Now that the holiday season is coming to a close, let’s not forget how fortunate we are and that every little thing we do to help someone who is less fortunate only makes our lives richer as well.
I like to believe that at the heart of human nature is an instinct that helps others. I think the reason most of us won’t eat the last cookie in the jar is that there may be someone else who needs it more than us. Don’t get me wrong, I am not espousing martyrdom here, that we should starve so someone else can enjoy life, but I do believe that balance comes from compromise. Food is one of the basic elements of our lives, and sharing it is one of our basic principles. Since there are people even in this rich part of the world who don’t have enough to maintain their existence, perhaps our compromise could start with food? If everyone managed to put one more cookie in the jar when they took one out, think of how much that would offer those who had none.
If you picked up even a bargain item whenever you went grocery shopping – a can of soup or package of pasta on special – that could cost you less than a dollar a visit but it would be like inviting someone for dinner. You could even explain to your children about your gesture of “paying it forward.” (Isn’t that another name for the Christmas spirit?)
Do you want an alternative with no cost? An app that allows you to make a difference? How about www.freerice.com It is a website run by the United Nations Food Program. Their goal is to provide free education through various games, and help to end world hunger by providing rice to needy communities. Even your kids can play, and for every answer they get right, they donate ten grains of rice to the program. Categories include word games, chemistry, math, anatomy, famous quotes and even language learning!
There are lots of ways we can help. We just have to take the time throughout the year to behave the way we do at Christmas. The brotherhood of man is not a concept that works if we apply it one week of the year. That would mean that we are likely to help out only about one time in fifty, and we are better than that, aren’t we?
Let’s show the world we can make it a better place each and every day. Let’s keep that Christmas spirit alive and well. It could be like the Olympic torch, never going out.
Happy New Year, everyone.
Read more Happy Gourmand articles
- We need to believe Dec 20
- Nuts at Christmas Dec 13
- Christmas without a Santa-size tummy Dec 6
- Christmas is for sharing Nov 29
- Nuttier than a fruitcake Nov 22
- Gastro sexual Nov 15
- The other 50 shades of grey Nov 1
- Hallowe'en apples! Oct 25
- Chef's thanks for hunting season Oct 18
- Giving thanks for the weirdest things Oct 11
- Cheers! Oct 4
- Sustainability and responsibility Sep 27
(Click for RSS instructions.)