Monday, August 3rd16.1°C
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Happy Gourmand

Gad-zukes!

Summer is the season that seems to be the most anticipated and the one that flies by the fastest. My garden works in the same way... everything sprouts and grows and flowers and then all of a sudden I am in a rush to make sure we enjoy it all. Radishes and lettuce first - we eat salad like rabbits. Raspberries galore, the bushes bending over from so much fruit. Beans and peas and carrots, oh my! Decadence comes in the form of cukes and tomatoes. And then, just when you think you might have a handle on things, yikes! Where the heck did that football-sized zucchini come from?!

I have spoken before of my adventures with squash. I have a great relationship with the squash fairy - that creature that leaves fresh squash of all kinds and colours on people's porches or office desks. I have numerous variations on the zucchini bread recipe to use and share. I've used them as table props for buffet functions, then allowing them to be modest hostess gifts left behind. But perhaps the best way to combat the torrential harvest is to go "Old World" style - beat the plant to the punch by eating the blossoms like the Italians do!

My Mom and Dad made a trip to Italy years ago, and one of the things they raved about was "Fiore di Zucca", the fried squash blossoms that are traditional in the region. Fresh blossoms are dipped in a batter and then fried. If you want a more elaborate approach, try stuffing them. Either way, it tastes like you just captured summer in the palm of your hand and coated it in bread crumbs.

I trolled the plants I have meandering at the side of the garden and we managed to find just enough blossoms to make an appetizer for dinner. I am usually a recipe devotée but this time we "winged it". A bit of beaten egg to dip them in, and some panko crumbs for coating. I stuffed them with ricotta cheese, lemon zest and herbs from the garden. I mixed the filling, then added a bit of something else to make it sing (pour yourself some wine and you will be likely inspired). I carefully spooned in the filling and thought to myself on the last one,  "This would be easier if I had a pastry bag." I put some grapeseed oil in a pan and we gently lowered our lovely treasures in to brown. Once done, a wee drain on some paper and then a bit more wine. It was ambrosia.

Summer is now half over. Here is your weekly reminder to make the most of it. As much as we have all groaned in the heat, it seems when the cooler weather returns we all agree we would have enjoyed a longer season.

As the Italians say, "Salute!"



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What makes it all go round

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!



Be bop, blues and breakfast

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.





Tastes of summer

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.



Read more Happy Gourmand articles



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About the author...

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, being someone who is passionate about people having a good time . Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, marketing and service programs. Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column.

She says:

"Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that "sense of place" from where the food has come... the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had.

Happy Gourmand is about enjoying life and living in the moment; sharing that joy with others is how I keep those good vibes going!"

 

E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com

 







The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet presents its columns "as is" and does not warrant the contents.


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