We had our little summer break last weekend and enjoyed ourselves immensely. We ate leisurely meals, we stopped at the side of the road to enjoy the view, we chatted with locals in shops, we danced the night away, we gazed at the stars. It was a truly glorious experience.
Now we are back in the hustle and bustle of our regular summer life and it feels like those days are miles away. As I was shaking my head this morning bemoaning my lack of free time I remembered how much fun we had. I had to give my head another shake; those few days were a reminder to feel grateful and enjoy every moment. That's something you do all the time, not just on holiday.
I got a beautiful email from a new reader last week who thanked me for sharing my sense of nostalgic wonder at the Wauconda Sock Hop. I smiled when I read the email, feeling proud that I had helped make someone else smile. And I thought of her when I and my piece of pie this year (lemon meringue), baked by a 95 year-old member of the Women's Club. The pie made me smile, and I bet the baker smiled as she was rolling out her delectable pastry too. I could taste the happiness.
That taste is what makes the world go round, I thought. For me, food is a great catalyst for happy experiences and memories. For others, it's music or art or nature. The moments we get to enjoy those elements are when we get refuelled; they are what get us through the silly or sad times in between. Tom Robbins, one of my favourite writers, once said:
"It's never to late to have a happy childhood."
If you love nostalgia, Wauconda and Winthrop are fantastic places to visit. If you need to stay closer to home, how about a night at the drive-in? Starlight Theatre in Enderby encourages early entry so you can pack a picnic and maybe a frisbee for fun. Or maybe just quality time with family and friends... We catered a 75th birthday dinner this week and the guest of honour had this pearl of wisdom to share:
"People make fun. And fun makes people."
I'm two thirds of the way to 75 years - I think I'll spend my next 25 years getting better at fun, and not work.
Here's hoping you have a fun week!
Yes, readers, it's that time of year again... I'm off to the good old U.S. of A this weekend for our the annual Wauconda Sock Hop and Antique Car Show. My dance partner and I have become the token Canuck contingent at this little community event, drifting back in time with the locals to the 50s to swing and bop our hearts out. I dust off my saddle shoes and Martin digs out his bowling shirt and we're all set! When we get too hot, we'll step outside for a piece of homemade pie made by the local Women's Club. I'm hoping Edna will make her apricot pie again this year; that's my favourite after ten years of sampling all the flavours. I'm posting the recipe below for those who are game to try it. Edna is in her 90s and her instructions are not exactly scientific, but then any good baker she knows would be able to understand her notes perfectly.
"Make a double pie crust. I always use butter flavoured Crisco, it adds flavour and aroma to the pie. For the filling, I use about 1 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons flour and 2 tablespoons cornstarch with the fruit. Mix it all up and sprinkle a little on the bottom crust. Then put in your chopped apricots. Then the rest of the sugar-flour mixture on top of the apricots. Make some small pieces of cold butter, just little cubes, and place them one on top of the filling and 5 or 6 around the sides. Add a squirt of lemon juice. Put on the top crust and bake for approximately one hour."
(I used 12 apricots, and mixed the sugar-flour combination in with the fruit before I put it in the crust. I used the juice of 1/2 a lemon, and I baked it on the bottom rack of the oven at 400F for 1 hour. You have to make sure the filling boils or the cornstarch won't work to thicken it. Edna says you have to experiment a bit with the recipe as some years the fruit will be more sweet or juicy, so if it's not perfect the first time, just keep on trying!)
After the sock hop, we get up the next morning and make a big camping breakfast. We'll have pancakes with maple syrup, bacon and camp coffee (made in my antique percolator). Then we'll pack up and head to the Winthrop Rhythm & Blues Festival for the last day. The town of Winthrop is a charming hamlet that has been recreated western style. The festival is the largest and longest running one in Washington state. It's another step back in time, reminding me of the fairs my parents attended with my brother and I in tow as kids. The free and easy ambience, with lyrical music in the sun and people sitting on the grass and kids running around... doesn't it say the 60s? The people are gracious and friendly, the music is easy to tap your toes to, and the food is classic festival fare (we all need a corn dog or some kind of exotic wrap every once in a while, don't you think?). It's a completely relaxing way to spend a day.
We have one last day to hang out and enjoy the town and our campsite on the shores of Pearrygin Lake. This gives us a chance to have another great camping breakfast - likely hash browns and fried eggs to make sure we get all the great tastes. Hopefully we can have a s'more or two as well, even if we do cook them over the stove. It's the best way to recoup from the hustle and bustle, just watching the night stars twinkle and listening to the wind in the trees.
We will reminisce and remember this weekend, memories shared from past weekends like this one and stories told by others of times gone by. It's a slice of life, a juicy thick sample of all that makes the world go round. May each of you have such a slice served to you at least once this summer, just like a slice of Edna's apricot pie.
Every season has its flavours but dining al fresco lends an extra-special air to the tastes of summer. The pleasure of dining outdoors is something we regard as slightly decadent in Canada, what with our cold winters and short summers. Here in the Okanagan we are blessed with some of the best weather in the country and so there is a plethora of choices for al fresco dining. Many people enjoy their decks and patios, or those of restaurants in the valley - many of which offer lake and vineyard views. My absolute favourite option however, is a good old-fashioned picnic. Beach picnics can be lovely, as long as you have a blanket big enough to keep the sand off everything!
My mom made the best picnic. She was way ahead of her time, knowing that if you wanted sandwiches it was much nicer to bring ingredients and let people build their own as part of the picnic experience. She would have containers of tomatoes, cucumbers, cold cuts, cheese, perhaps a bit of tuna salad, and always her famous potato salad in a large Tupperware (made of course with chopped celery, radishes, hard-boiled eggs and homemade mayonnaise!) There would be fresh buns, and nice cloth napkins and even a wet face cloth to wipe up afterwards (my mom was ahead on being green too).
As I got older, the world of food expanded and so did my mom's enthusiasm with picnics. By the time I was an adult she was giving Martha Stewart a run for her money. We would meet for the fireworks festival in Kits Beach in Vancouver and she would unveil a homemade quiche, salads with fresh berries, baguettes and pates...and wine with glasses, even! The fireworks were all the more spectacular as a result, I'm sure.
Did you know that the term "al fresco", although it's Italian, is not what the Italians say when they dine out of doors. Al fresco is a North American term, one that we have embraced with European dignity and style. Patio furniture is as stylish now as interior decor and there are all kinds of accessories available for at-home or on-the-road occasions. I'm a classic kind of girl though; I still yearn for those summer picnics on the grass with a blanket and my mom's composed sandwiches.
I'm posting Mom's recipe for mayonnaise on my blog this weekend for you to try if you like. It elevates a cucumber sandwich to new heights and makes potato salad something you'll want another scoop of! But even if you're busy and can't make your own goodies, a box of KFC or some sushi on a blanket tastes mighty fine. Find a partner and a piece of grass or beach, and toast the good things in life. I know my mom is probably on a patio somewhere in Southern Europe as I write this, enjoying herself and marvelling at how many ways one can enjoy dining al fresco.
Sitting on the edge of summer with our national day of pride upon us, I am reminded of that phrase our neighbours to the south use: “As American as hot dogs and apple pie”. It doesn’t sound like much of a meal, and I am not sure where they cornered the market on apples being American, but let’s not get into that here. My point is, what food is quintessentially Canadian?
I have brought up previously the idea that across a country as vast as ours, it is quite the job to come up with a single ingredient or dish that would signal national pride for all. When I was in France as a teaching assistant and my students asked me to give examples of Canadian foods, I came up with butter tarts, maple syrup and peanut butter as things I considered more or less unique to Canada. We tried them all in class, with two out of three being winners. (French children cannot see why you would eat something like peanut butter on a perfectly respectable baguette, especially with something as horrid as cold milk.) I know Martin and I have discussed many times the differences between growing up on opposite sides of the country. Most of our favourite special things are different - for example, me enjoying more seafood and him with more pork!
I did do some research and discovered that rhubarb is something that is grown across Canada. That seems like a good representative ingredient, wouldn’t you say? It’s hearty, colourful, and very tasty when treated with just a bit of care. We are a nation that likes to take care, I think. I certainly wouldn’t turn down a bit of rhubarb compote, or a piece of pie, or even a bit of chutney, if it was offered. It’s far more original than apple pie (can you see me smirking between the lines?).
Of course, the Americans with their melting pot culture are more focused on making sure everyone has the same concept. Our cultural mosaic is more encouraging of the notion that everyone has their own twist on an idea. Both systems have their advantages, and disadvantages. I do think the Americans with their focus (okay, and a bigger budget) do put on a great show. Their fireworks are amazing. We would most often rather put on a series of little vignettes, each with its own expression. We are more discreet. Even as a kid I understood this. I remember one of the Muppets, those lovely American creatures from Sesame Street, saying “Patriotism swells in the heart of the American bear!” If he was a Canadian bear he wouldn’t have been that forthcoming.
I was in the United States over the long weekend a few years ago, with our Girl Guide unit. We exchanged enthusiasm as the girls met with Girl Scouts from Spokane and celebrated their 4th of July. At twelve or thirteen years old, these girls didn't care too much about patriotism and national identity specifically, but I know they found differences between them and their American counterparts. That was the point, after all – we wanted them to appreciate both the similarities and the differences. When I was their age and attending basketball camp outside Spokane, things like Almond Joy and Dr. Pepper were not available here. I thought that was cool even if the US girls thought I lived in an igloo. Nowadays many more things have crossed over, but our girls still shared some funny misconceptions.
Here’s to enjoying your slice of pie with your neighbour, whether it be apple or rhubarb or anything else. Thankfully we live in a country, on a continent, where you can do that and not have to worry about repercussions.
Hip hip hooray!
Read more Happy Gourmand articles
- Daddy's princess Jun 20
- Here comes the sun Jun 13
- Food trivia tidbits Jun 6
- Time for dandelions May 30
- Eat your crusts! May 23
- Ready, set...go summer! May 16
- Give Mom a break May 9
- May Day! May Day! May 2
- A break, for hot or cold Apr 25
- Salt of the earth Apr 18
- Celebrate food! Apr 11
- Hippity hoppity Apr 4
(Click for RSS instructions.)