As things heat up, I am encouraged to see the garden growing, and know that soon we will have our own veggies. Salad is a staple at our house during the warm season, and I love being able to gather the ingredients from the back yard - arugula, sorrel, chives, cherry tomatoes, cukes, and so on. I remember as a kid that salad usually meant iceberg lettuce with maybe the odd radish or a bit of celery sliced in.
That got me thinking about the evolution of salad. . . .
My Gramps used to talk about lettuce as though it was a wild plant, which seemed pretty strange to me. He spoke of using dandelion greens in a salad, not very appealing in my mind – as a five year old, I thought he was teasing me when he said the kids were sent out to pick them - he was trying to get me to do the dirty work in the yard.
He also talked about lamb’s quarters, which sounded equally suspicious. I would learn later that what we now eat in many mesclun salad mixes had that earlier name because it has a leg of mutton sort of shape to its leaf.
Not sure why I didn’t search out those greens earlier in life. I was never much of a fan of iceberg lettuce, which I figured must have that name because it tasted so watery. They say the name comes from the mountains of crushed ice used to transport the lettuce when it first became popular in the 1920s.
How, you may ask, did we get to where we are?
I think we can pat ourselves - and our free-thinking parents - on the back for allowing adventure and curiosity to take over from routine and familiarity. Don’t get me wrong, a good dose of familiarity once and again does help one keep one’s sanity.
Thinking that salad was a lettuce that had little personality, served with a dressing that sometimes had too much personality was one of the things that held North American society back. No offence to Kraft, I ate Catalina dressing and other similar concoctions as a kid, but it was akin to thinking that watching a movie on one of those portable players is the same as being in a theatre.
Embracing new ideas and creative quirks has brought us into a new age where we can hold our heads high, and say we know our stuff.
A salad by any other name
Just think, today salad doesn’t even need to include lettuce. I have had watermelon, cucumber and radish salad that was a far more exciting tribute to crisp, crunchy, clean tastes than an iceberg lettuce.
Mexican bean salads and Thai noodle salads transport you clear across the world. Adding candied nuts to a simple green salad really takes it uptown, and adding tamari-roasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds lets me think of what it must have been like to be a hippie . . . if I keep going, we’ll never get to the rest of dinner.
I leave you this week with a recipe that resurrects a dressing that was once the poster child of bland and boring. This version is elevated to a level where it almost becomes the salad itself. The suggestion is to serve it with iceberg lettuce, but I will leave you to choose your own canvas.
THOUSAND ISLAND DRESSING
There is a debate on whether this recipe originates in Canada (the Thousand Islands are in the St. Lawrence River), or in the USA, where a chef in Chicago is said to have first whipped it up. Some say it is named to represent the thousand little chopped up pieces. This homemade version is certainly a far cry from the mass-produced condiment that has now become the special sauce for many a fast-food chain.
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tbsp chili sauce
1 tbsp finely chopped white onions
1 tbsp finely chopped dill pickle
1 tbsp finely chopped cooked beets
1 tbsp finely chopped hard-cooked egg
1 tbsp finely chopped chives
1 tbsp finely chopped pimientos
1 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
½ tsp Worchestershire sauce
Mix gently with a rubber spatula and serve over lettuce.
Sticky fingers and dirty toes
This weekend will mark the official beginning of the sunny season. The sunny season is more than spring, it runs into summer, it is the feeling you get that lasts right through ’til September . . . you know, that feeling when we get to be outside and soak up the sun.
Sometimes that is a decadent relaxing thing, but other times it means doing those outside things you love to do which is gardening for me and barbecuing for the Chef. It works well, as I spend the day in the dirt, then get to finish with finger-lickin' sticky goodness on the deck while surveying our domain.
I am lucky to have my greenhouse (thanks to a thoughtful husband on our ‘aluminum’ year). I have been watching my little seedlings and nursing my plants with tender loving care. Some of those plants will come outside this weekend, and they will be kept company by the seeds that will be sowed in the newly tilled garden. I can't wait to watch them grow.
We have wacky things planted in our garden: Easter Egg radishes that come in a bevy of colours, purple carrots (the original look for carrots, believe it or not), fingerling potatoes - they don’t just sound cool, they are fun to eat.
Many of these plants are heirloom varieties, which means they have true seeds – ones that will grow the same as your original plant if you plant them. Hybrids, like much of what we buy at the grocery stores, will often not produce any fruit.
Having a garden is a great way to eat healthy and get reconnected with Mother Earth. You may think I sound a bit like a hippie, but I do think that knowing where your food comes from is a wonderful thing.
One word of caution: Over-enthusiasm. This is my downfall in the garden, and with heirloom seeds it can be catastrophic, in a bountiful way.
I planted Bachelor's Button flowers in my edible flower box a number of years ago, and now I am pulling them by the dozens out of the gravel next to the box. In the vegetable garden, I used to let the volunteer seedlings grow, until I ended up with a garden I could hardly get through to harvest the crop.
Now I keep in mind that a weed is any plant growing in a place you don't want it growing. If you feel the need to save plants, then give them away to friends. You will be thankful later, I promise. So will your remaining plants.
Being in touch with Mother Earth also means knowing one's place in it, I think. To me that means I have to be humble and remember I am not planting a jungle.
I think the simple act of digging in the dirt is great therapy for any of us, it’s a pause from the hectic nature of our lives and a chance to enjoy being outside. Let yourself get into it. Take your shoes off and let your feet feel the grass. Let your toes get dirty, you can wash them later with the garden hose.
And then when you sit back with a drink in your hand, you can admire your handiwork as it grows and changes throughout the entire sunny season. If you don't have someone to feed you something sticky made at home, then treat yourself to take-out just this once. You deserve it after all that hard work.
If you are looking for heirloom plants for your garden, ask at your local farmer’s market, or at one of the private nurseries. We love the folks at Dogwood, near our place – they know lots and have a great variety. In downtown Kelowna, I have had great experiences at the Flower Farm.
For a great BBQ recipe, my husband Martin was willing to share this one. His sauce for this is a secret recipe, so I’ve included one from our days of catering for movie crews. It was always a hit.
CHEF MARTIN'S GREEK LAMB SKEWERS
Serves 6 people
Lamb cubes, 4 lb - chicken could also work if you like, but this is a great way to eat lamb
4 cloves of crushed garlic
4 tbsp dry oregano
1 fresh lemon, juiced
1 tbsp garlic powder
Salt & Pepper
Marinade meat in bowl or bag overnight, squishing it every time you go to the ’fridge.
Place on skewers, grill on high heat to a nice medium pink for lamb. 131F
Grill thick pita bread, serve with tzatziki sauce and hummous, maybe a Greek salad on the side.
1 litre plain Greek yoghurt
1 English cucumber, grated
2 cloves crushed garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small lemon, juiced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon dry oregano
Grate cucumber over paper towel and squeeze extra juice from it. In bowl, combine yoghurt, grated cucumber, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, oregano and garlic.
Refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
Blossoms abound, and the buzzing of bees and twittering of birds are hard to ignore. It is a time when most of us feel happily connected to the earth as the days get longer and the landscape gets greener.
Really, what's not to like?
But are we truly connected to the planet? Do we understand what keeps the planet healthy?
Perhaps it is good that we have Earth Day on April 22 to remind us to be responsible planetary citizens.
Earth Day has been around since 1970. U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson first launched the idea, he wanted to bring attention to the environment after seeing the effects of an oil spill in California. Nelson capitalized on the enthusiasm of student protests from the late 60s, and organized events across the nation.
On April 22 that first year, there were 20 million Americans in the streets in support of a healthy, sustainable planet. In 1990, the program was taken to the world, and Canada was one of many nations to adopt it. Twenty-five years later, we are still working on ways to save our environment.
Natural food has always been at the heart of the environmental movement, with nutrition and eating seasonally and locally. Now there’s an added focus on the effects of chemicals on animals, soil, and air.
Talk of bees and other pollinating creatures at risk due to changes in our environment adds another layer of danger to our natural world. Can I plant enough wildflowers to help the bees win their battle? Can I convince enough children that they can make a difference if they eat a fresh apple instead of processed applesauce? Or to have homemade salad dressing instead of something in a bottle with added preservatives and sugar?
I spend time with kids in my volunteer work, both through Girl Guides and the Farm to Fork education programs. Kids are aware of being responsible about recycling and not wasting energy, but many are also used to consuming processed packaged food and using all kinds of environmentally unfriendly products to make life easier.
Products and packaging end up in the earth through landfills or sewers, despite the bits that get recycled. Sometimes I wonder if we haven't just adapted through technology - we have more ways to be earth-conscious, but we consume more stuff so we just recycle more. I am grateful for the sincerity and enthusiasm the kids have, though. It gives me hope to see their passion for our planet. They want to make it a better place.
Is Earth Day one you will mark on your calendar? Do you make an effort toward having a sustainable planet?
I remember 1990 - I was in the bicycle business back then, and the shop I managed was very keen to promote cycling as a clean mode of transport. There I met a guy named Dave, who became a guru for many of us at the shop.
He was trying to live a pure life, he said, and getting in touch with nature. He wore hemp clothing, and was a vegetarian. The most striking thing about him was the aura of peace he had. He wanted to be your friend, to hear what you were about. He thought if we could all just slow down and take the time to hear each other's stories then we could find common ground and live in harmony. We called him Dave Zen.
A few years later I left the bike business and Calgary, and lost touch with Dave Zen. I have often wondered over the years what became of him. I imagine him in a community somewhere, a sort of co-operative where people have found the secret to a long and happy life. When I spend time with the kids, I sometimes see the same glimmer in their eyes that I saw in his, and that makes me smile.
In honour of Earth Day, my recipe this week is one from Dave. It may look overly healthy and you might be suspicious as a result, but trust me, these are good cookies.
Eat them outside, in the fresh air.
DAVE ZEN'S ORBIT OATMEAL COOKIES
3 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups rolled oats (NOT quick oats)
2 cups chocolate chips (carob chips can be substituted if you're feeling extra healthy)
2 cups unsweetened medium shredded coconut
1 cup butter (coconut oil can be substituted)
1-1/4 cup honey
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs (optional - they make the cookies a bit more chewy and moist)
Measure flour, oats and coconut in large bowl and blend together. Cream butter and honey until smooth, add eggs and vanilla. Incorporate flour, oats and coconut gradually and mix well. Stir in chocolate chips.
Bake at 350F for 10-15 minutes, or until golden on top and firm to the touch. Cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight container.
I decided this year to conquer some of my old fears.
At the grand old age of 50, it seemed I should be able to tick a few items off my bucket list, despite being an old dog. So, when we were in Jamaica I screwed up my courage and did my first night dive. Pretty good for the girl who wouldn't sleep with the door closed 'cause it was too dark, and didn't want to look in the closet in case there really might be a bogeyman in there.
I crossed one more item off my list this past week - I made bread.
I know, you're thinking, "That's crazy!" How can a foodie like me be afraid of making bread? Well, the secret's out. I have made it a couple of times in my life, but only because I took a class or someone asked me to do it. Last Sunday I just decided to do it, all on my own. Just like on my night dive, I discovered that after a few deep breaths, I felt better and was able to focus.
Making bread is such a soulful activity. Women have baked bread for thousands of years as part of sustaining families and settlements. Jesus handed out morsels of bread to each of the disciples at the Last Supper.
Breaking bread together has been a tradition through the ages, to celebrate with loved ones and seal deals. I suppose the pressure was getting to me - if I made a crummy loaf of bread (no pun intended), did that mean I was not a good host, or a suitably nurturing female?
Still, I kept finding other recipes to divert my attention. I felt bad for avoiding bread recipes, for always searching instead for biscuits or quick breads.
Another of my projects for 2016 was to cook one new recipe every week, as a way to make better use of all my cookbooks. When I rediscovered an old favourite, Mark Millers' Southwestern classic Indian Market Cookbook, I was inspired. Martin was cooking duck for our Sunday dinner, and I found a wonderful bread recipe to pair with it. What better day than Sunday to work on bread making.
You could use a bread maker if you wanted to cut the time in making loaves, but I do believe you lose something in translation, if you'll pardon the expression. Incorporating the making of bread into a day's activities, letting it rise and shaping it so it can rise again, that is a big part of the magic you don't want to mis.
It was encouraging, mixing and kneading and watching the dough rise. Bread is a visible accomplishment. I imagined the loaves looking golden and elegant, just the way they were described in the cookbook, and those images in my head gave me confidence in my hands.
As the loaves began to bake, I could smell the benefits of my efforts. When they came out of the oven, I felt like an artist revealing a sculpture.
Okay, so perhaps I'm being overly dramatic, but it really did feel good to go through the process. It beats the instant gratification of popping a Pillsbury tube, I can tell you that much. Even if you think you are faking it ’til you make it, as you muddle along with your hands in the mucky dough, stick with it - you will be glad you did. Even if, like me, you don't get it perfect.
I have put the recipe for Rosemary Pecan Bread below. I can proudly say that my chef husband was most complimentary when I served a few warm slices with his duck at dinner. That, and the flavour and texture in my mouth, made my day.
The best part is, you will make two loaves, so you can give one away. They say it's a great token of generosity to share bread with a neighbour. It used to be a perfect gift for a housewarming, signifying a plentiful larder. If you don't believe me, ponder this Egyptian proverb:
"Rather a piece of bread with a happy heart than wealth with grief."
WILD ROSEMARY PECAN BREAD
5 cups unbleached flour
1 tbsp active dry yeast
2 tbsp sugar
2 cups warm water (about 100F)
1 cup pecans, chopped
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary (don't use dried)
2-3 tbsp cornmeal, to keep loaves from sticking while baking
Preheat oven to 350F
In large mixing bowl, mix together unbleached flour, yeast, sugar and water. Cover with damp towel or plastic wrap and allow this fermenting "sponge" to rise in a warm place for 20 to 30 minutes or until doubled in size.
Meanwhile, place pecans on baking sheet and toast in preheated oven for approximately 15 minutes, until browned. Turn off oven. You can do this in a toaster oven if you have one, to save energy.
Stir down sponge with long-handled wooden spoon or rubber spatula, add pecans, wholewheat flour, oil, salt and rosemary, stirring until smooth. It might be a bit tough to get all bits incorporated; if so, pour out onto counter and knead it in.
Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface. Knead dough for 5 to 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic (it will "bounce back" when you knead it). Place dough in lightly oiled bowl and turn to coat thoroughly. Cover with damp towel and let dough rise in warm place for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until doubled again.
Punch down dough (literally, take your fist and punch into middle of dough ball) Divide in 2 equal pieces, shaping into round loaves by tucking under bottom as you rotate with your other hand. Place loaves onto baking sheet that has been sprinkled with the cornmeal. Allow loaves to rise again for 1 hour, or until doubled.
Preheat oven to 400F
Sprinkle loaves with a little flour and slash tops with sharp knife or razor blade, making cuts about 3 inches long and 1/2 inch deep. Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until golden and loaves sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Remove from oven and turn out on wire rack to cool (if you don't remove from the baking sheet, bottoms will get soggy) .
Serve warm, or at room temperature. TIP: It's fabulous for grilled cheese sandwiches.
More Happy Gourmand articles
- Watercooler talk Apr 2
- Warm fuzzies of spring Mar 26
- Food. It's a superhero thing Mar 20
- Baby, it's a cold inside Mar 12
- Hungry. No idea Mar 6
- Jamaican green eggs & ham Feb 27
- Stand up and be counted Feb 20
- Want to get lucky? Feb 13
- Making memories Feb 6
- Groundhog Day looming Jan 30
- Time to reward ourselves Jan 23
- Just . . . eat it! Jan 16