When I was a kid I dreaded the May long weekend. It was the time when my mom planted the back yard and vegetable gardens, and my dad made sure the lawn was mowed, and the garage got cleaned up for summer use... it was a weekend for chores. We didn't have a pool or a boat, so there didn't seem to be any immediate reward for all that work. Garden veggies take months to grow, and by the time I was done I was too tired to sit on the freshly mowed grass :) The irony of all this, of course, is that now I love gardening and getting ready for summer. Nevertheless, I'm still too tired to sit on the grass.
What do you do on the May "Two-Four" weekend? Is it a chance to break out the patio furniture and a flat of beer with friends? And no, that's not the origin of the name "Two-Four"; it comes from the date of Queen Victoria's birthday, May 24th, the reason for the long weekend in Canada, even since before Confederation. Did you know we were celebrating even before she died? Festivities started in 1845, and the day was commemorated in the late monarch's honour as Victoria Day in 1904. Canada is the only country that has a national holiday in honour of Queen Victoria, and nowadays there are many ways Canadians show their enthusiasm and appreciation. Maybe this is the first weekend the boat gets out on the water? Or a time-honoured sports tournament? A crazy backyard party perhaps? Since it is the unofficial start of summer in the Great White North, it's a well-deserved big deal.
So, how about a few ideas to get the party started - or keep it going? I know we live in wine country, and there are many local craft beers to enjoy as well, but let's kick it up a notch. I'm going to give you a cocktail, and a few nibbles to enjoy, both savoury and sweet.
A refreshing cocktail that uses mint, one of the first herbs to appear in gardens. Add seasonal fruit to make it even more decadent!
- 1 ounce simple syrup
- juice of 1/2 lime
- 10-12 fresh mint leaves
- 1-1/2 ounces white rum
Put mint leaves in a glass with a bit of crushed ice and muddle (smash it) with a muddler or the handle end of a wooden spoon. Top with more ice, then add rum, lime juice and simple syrup. Top with soda.
* add fruit juice, and even a couple of pieces of fresh fruit to be muddled with the mint if you wish.
CREAMY RADISH DIP
A fun dip for veggies, pita chips or anything else you like to dunk!
- 1 bunch radishes, trimmed
- 125 g cream cheese
- zest and juice of 1 lemon
- salt & pepper to taste
Put radishes in food processor and pulse a few times. Add cream cheese and lemon juice, and blend until radish pieces are small and mixture is smooth. Stir in lemon zest, and season with salt and pepper. Serve with veggie sticks, chips, etc.
These are best over a campfire or at least the coals of a grill, but in case you don't have that option, here's a way to have the same fun.
- 1 Jet-Puffed marshmallows (or other similar large size)
- 2 graham wafer squares, or digestive cookies if you prefer
- 2 pieces of chocolate (dark or milk, your preference)
- 1 tbsp caramel spread (Caramoomel makes a great one, or look for other "dulce de leche" brands)
Spread the caramel on the wafers. Stick the chocolate in the marshmallow. Put the second cookie on top and create a sandwich. Place these sandwiches on a baking tray and put in a toaster oven or regular oven at 350F for approximately 3-5 minutes. (Time varies, just watch for melting marshmallow and chocolate.) These are messy but worth the trouble!
It's that time of year again when we are all supposed to give Mom a break. Cook a meal, clean the house, walk the dog ... Pitch in a bit extra as a way of saying thank you for all she does. Perhaps too Mother's Day is a chance for the rest of us to walk a mile in Mom's shoes?
Moms - and I'm including Grandmas, step-moms, and any other female caregivers you might know - do a lot. Nurturing another human being is a many-faceted responsibility. As such, we have many opportunities to show our gratitude. Unfortunately it's all too easy to forget everyday things and Moms are usually a big part of our everyday life. Mother's Day is our official reminder.
We can certainly do the traditional things like making Mom breakfast in bed or taking her out to a restaurant. If your Mom would enjoy this then go for it! My only advice here is make a reservation for the restaurant and plan a reasonable menu for breakfast in bed. Don't attempt to do either of these last minute unless your family is used to the challenges that come with spontaneity (translation: everyone needs a sense of humour).
Or, how about trying something out for the box for Mom?
- Maybe she's not a foodie and you're not much of a cook. Then ordering pizza or Thai or whatever is fine; your special gesture is planning on her not cooking or doing dishes. Add a card or something else personal, just from you, and you're set!
- How many things do Moms look after that they'd rather not? If you could take one thing off her plate what would it be? You would do it for a friend, doesn't Mom deserve the same?
- What is usually the most rare commodity these days? Time is a beautiful gift to give Mom, even if it's a simple walk in the park. Create a memory - it doesn't have to cost a penny.
Maybe Mom lives far away. If you can, call her on Mother's Day. Moms love to hear our voices. Emails and online cards are fine, but there is nothing like hearing the actual words, "I love you." When I was younger and away from my mom, she used to say that hearing my voice helped her place me in the world and know I was safe.
If you're like me and not a mom you might want to recognize other moms too. I have some wonderful girlfriends who are great moms for their families and have been an inspiration to me as a woman.
More than anything, just don't let Mother's Day pass by without recognizing at least one Mom you admire.
And, in case you need a recipe for breakfast in bed, here's one that never fails :)
CHEF MARTIN'S HOMEMADE FRUIT GOOP
(great on pancakes or French toast, and awesome on yogurt, or ice cream!)
- 8 large apples, cut in medium pieces and peeled and cored if necessary
(you can use any crispy-fleshed apple variety, any kind of berries, rhubarb, pears, peaches, plums - or a combination. Try to pick fruit in season or go for frozen pieces)
- 2 cups water (use only 1 cup if your fruit is frozen)
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- zest of 1 lemon
- 1-1/2 tsp cornstarch in 2 tbsp water, added at the end to make it a bit thicker if you wish
Other spices - cloves for apples or pears, ginger for rhubarb or pears, nutmeg for peaches - use your imagination!
In a large saucepan, combine the fruit, apples, sugar, spice and lemon zest, and bring to a gentle boil. Lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the fruit is tender but not mushy and the mixture is a bit thicker, around 10 to 15 minutes. If you wish, here is where you add the cornstarch. Remember this mixture will also thicken a bit as it cools off; you still want it to be a sauce, not a jam.
Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature before serving.
French toast tips:
- add a touch of cream with the milk to make it richer (try coconut milk if you want dairy free)
- Add cinnamon, nutmeg too if you like, and a splash of vanilla extract - or even rum, if a grown up is helping :)
- Cook on a hot griddle or pan and keep extras warm in a 200F oven.
- Serve with syrup, jam or other accompaniments at room temperature (not cold out of the fridge, they have more taste when a bit warmer)
May 1st has long been known as a day of celebration throughout much of Europe. “May Day” as it is sometimes called, represents the midpoint between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. In ancient times it was known as the first day of summer, the festival of the goddess of flowers, Flora; February 1 was then the first day of spring. (This is how you end up with “Midsummer’s Eve” being on June 25th.) Putting up a decorated maypole was one of the customs of medieval times in many European countries. It is said to perhaps signify a reverence for trees, perhaps a pagan worshipping ritual; or it may have been just an urge to gather and celebrate. There are romantic notions that flowers under a girl's pillow on May 1 would allow her to dream of her mate. Young men in Germanic countries in the 16th century would place a small maypole in their favourite girl's front yard as a gesture of affection.
When I checked into all this history I was also reminded of the other meaning of this expression when the words are strung together – “mayday” is a distress signal, not in relation to the celebrations but from the French words meaning to help someone: “m’aider”. Living in such a bountiful part of the world, this seemed like an appropriate sentiment to cultivate as the growing season begins and we all have the opportunity to pitch in and be neighbourly.
Thankfully, we are getting to the time of year when we can enjoy the spoils from closer to home. The farmer’s market is now open, and gardens are valiantly working to sprout local veggies and flowers for us to enjoy. I am pleased to be working again as part of a Growing Chefs team, an organization that goes to elementary schools to teach the kids about where veggies come from (as in the earth). We grow a garden and taste all kinds of veggies, and learn about composting. It's fun to see them getting excited about their food.
I love gardening and seasonal traditions and symbols so I have put some Lilies of the Valley in my sensory garden out back, in keeping with the French tradition of May Day. Bouquets of these little white flowers are given to loved ones on May First, something that began with King Charles IX when he received them as a lucky charm and passed them to the ladies at court. Between those blossoms and the lavender planted at the garden gate for luck, the gardens at Rabbit Hollow should be set for a great gardening season!
I know with the Spring Wine Festival starting there will be much in the way of celebration going on. (You can check out all the events at their website.) Remember to eat something hearty with all that wine flowing, and perhaps you can include a fresh sprig of something to symbolize the fact that spring is underway and summer is not far off. I have posted more recipes on my Happy Gourmand blog, and Martin’s website has videos too, if you need ideas.
The magic of new shoots and fresh tastes is sure to inspire the spring fairies to awaken their kin and bring the spirit of summer into full regalia. If you feel the urge to dance through a field, carry on!
Perhaps it is those ever-cool spring mornings, or my love for a bit of extra warmth, but I have been thinking a lot about coffee lately. With my ever-curious brain and its search for more trivia, that led me to thinking about the whole psychology that goes with our coffee culture, and why a simple beverage has become a ritual for us, an intrinsic part of our everyday life. Even people who don’t partake of the stuff know the steps in the ritual, and the places that support such rites are rife with adaptations for these non-believers. No one wants to be left out, after all.
Did you know that the discovery of coffee apparently gets credited to an Ethiopian shepherd who lost his sheep and later found them dancing around a red cherry bush? The bush was a coffee plant, and when he tried the red cherries (unroasted coffee beans) he began to dance around the bush too. He told the story to monks and they told him they made a drink from the beans. As you can see, celebration was obviously an early part of the coffee ritual.
The first coffee shop opened in Constantinople in 1475, and in those days coffee was so important to the people that a woman could legally divorce her husband if he did not provide her with her daily quota of coffee. (Now doesn’t that make an interesting Timmy’s commercial!) When Pope Clemente VIII was asked to place a ban on coffee drinking, he refused saying, "This beverage is so delicious it would be a sin to let only misbelievers drink it!"
There is much research and documentation to prove the relationship coffee has had to the development of our culture. Bach wrote a Coffee Cantata. Many a politician and literary personality developed their craft in coffee houses around the world. The Boston Tea Party made drinking coffee a very patriotic thing to do in the new United States. You can consider yourself in good company the next time you sit and sip your grande non-fat latte.
If you are not a coffee fan, do not dismay. I don’t want you to feel like you cannot be a part of history as well. Consider another trend that has created a culture around itself, that all familiar treat – ice cream. It too, has existed since somewhere in the 2nd century B.C. although there is no record of the inventor.
We do know that personages such as Alexander the Great, King Solomon and Emperor Nero were all fond of iced concoctions reminiscent of today’s treat. Marco Polo is credited with the somewhat modern version of sherbet and then advancements allowed for the adaptations with cream. It was a delicacy that was mostly reserved for the rich however, as storing frozen goods was no mean feat in the days before refrigeration. It was not until the 1800’s that insulated ice houses became the start of an industry in America. A few years before, President George Washington spent the tidy sum of two hundred dollars on ice cream consumption one summer! (I wonder if he claimed that expense.) In 1843 the first hand-cranked ice cream maker was invented by Nancy Johnson of New York. The ice cream cone was made popular at the St. Louis World's Fair of 1904.
During World War II, ice cream was a symbol of America’s prowess – the armed forces took great pride in being able to serve it to the troops, with the piece de resistance being a floating ice cream parlour the Navy built in the South Pacific.(Can’t you imagine Christine Aguilera dancing there in her sailor outfit?!) When the war was won, Americans celebrated by eating ice cream: they consumed 20 quarts of the stuff per person in 1946!
Nowadays, as with most things, ice cream has become an expanded concept. It can now include soy or rice milk products. You can have it scooped, or blended with bits of extra stuff. Flavours include such combinations as lime wasabi and chipotle fudge. You can even have it in tiny balls that are flash frozen, which apparently seals in more flavour to every mouthful. There are even theatrical providers who will perform feats of ice cream magic at events, making it instantly using liquid nitrogen.
Technology is part of the attraction in today’s food world, and the perfect combination seems to be a bit of high tech wizardry with a touch of retro simplicity. With these elements in balance, you get the blending of new and old worlds. Perhaps that is how we can bring generations and cultures together, over a cup of half-caff extra hot caramel latte or a cup of Dippin' Dots ice cream balls. There is long tradition in sharing ideas while taking a break from the hectic pace of everyday life, and we all certainly deserve a break, don’t we? Maybe we won’t solve the problems of the world, but maybe we will :)
There are lots of great coffee shops in Kelowna and surrounding areas; you could even make it a goal to try all of them! One of our favourite places is GioBean in Kelowna. There are some great ice cream places too. We are partial to the flavours and homemade cones at Paynter's Fruit Market, but we have to wait for them to open in June.
If you want to try making your own ice cream, how about this? Here is a recipe that involves coffee and ice cream! Chef Martin's Creme Brulee This coffee infused crème brulée recipe can be made as usual, or if you take the custard and put it in an ice cream maker, you have coffee ice cream.
Read more Happy Gourmand articles
- Salt of the earth Apr 18
- Celebrate food! Apr 11
- Hippity hoppity Apr 4
- What is it about pickles? Mar 28
- Spring inspirations Mar 21
- There isn't much a cookie can't cure Mar 14
- And the winner is... Feb 21
- Food is life and what a good life it is! Feb 14
- Breakfast: best way to start the day Feb 7
- Beginner's guide to aphrodisiac foods Jan 31
- Chase away the winter blues Jan 24
- Sprinkles on broccoli, really?! Jan 17
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