This past weekend we hosted a family reunion for my Icelandic relatives. It truly was like having an invading horde at the house, and given that my family is of Viking descent it seemed somewhat fitting. It was a barrage of noise and movement, and a seemingly endless array of meals and coffee to organize. Icelanders love their coffee. (Do you know rumour has it many Icelanders were encouraged by a letter one new Icelandic Canadian wrote saying coffee was plentiful here?) I loved every minute of our gathering, and I would do it again in a heartbeat, especially now that I've had a couple nights' good sleep! And do you know the best part? The kids who all thought they would be bored to tears with a bunch of people they didn't know were all cavorting together like a band of thieves by the end of the weekend. Not to mention they got a chance to try some traditional Icelandic food.
I bet you're thinking that traditional Icelandic food is horrible stuff like salted fish and stewed seaweed. While it is true that salt cod is the Icelandic version of beef jerky, there are many other interesting dishes that have wider appeal. Of course, childhood memories are often gilded with sugar, so it was the sweeter things most of us remembered. I was thrilled to see that a second cousin who came from Saskatoon (my grandma's brother's daughter) had made vinarterta, a torte that we only ever had at Christmas but is a dessert common at special occasions and festivals. Many other family members had not eaten it since they were kids. One cousin remembered his mom used to make it in October and freeze it so it was ready for Christmas. Each bite was a taste of nostalgia.
My aunt has always been a foodie and she was kind enough to bring out some unique recipes; unfortunately we didn't have time to find all the exotic ingredients needed for Fiskefar (fish balls) or Skildpadde (calf's head stew). My chef husband was game enough to try kleinur though. He waded through a recipe that listed using "enough flour to roll out easily" and finally managed to create the Icelandic sour cream donuts many of us remembered Amma (grandma) making. The next morning he again tackled the Leif Erikson cookbook and took up ponnukokur as his challenge. It seemed a simple enough recipe and it turned out fine, but the translation to "Icelandic pancakes" was a bit off. If he had asked one of us first, we could have told him that they were actually meant to be more like a crepe, not a pancake. At least the ones our Amma made were that way. The breakfast conversation got quite involved once we started to discuss just what was the right way to make them, and what was the best filling. The kids were entertained, as they were tasting for the first time and it was all fine for them. Those of us who had memories were trying to keep their essence intact!
As tongue in cheek as I am in recounting the tale, I was proud to know that one of the pieces I was helping to pass on to future generations was a taste of our heritage. Recipes that had vague directions and unique ingredients were difficult to learn; they required someone who could unlock the key. Google can teach us many things but it can't always pass on the wisdom of our elders.
I am happy to offer the links to these recipes so that they may be preserved, and I encourage each of you to make sure you have your notes recorded for the special delicacies you remember from days of yore. If you can manage to organize a family group together to share around a table, so much the better. But at least sharing recipes will help keep the fabric of family intact.
My heart was warmed by all those young cousins making new friends of their relatives, and by all of us older folk getting to remember all those great memories and tastes we thought we had lost. My dad would have been so proud to see everyone gathered together. I'm glad we toasted him and all the others who are "missing in battle". Here's to your family, be they close or spread apart; may you share the warmth of their love as you share a meal around the table. Skål! (Cheers!)
The Okanagan has been known for its fruits for generations. People from around the world come here in summer to pick, buy and eat the many varieties fresh and in season. This year Mother Nature sped things up a bit, so we have already enjoyed much of the bounty. Peaches are almost done, and the plums and pears are being picked already in some places. It's almost hard to keep up with consuming some of everything. The farms and fruit stands are booming, and their friendly family approach seems to put the F back in fruit (keep reading, you'll get my reference soon.) Quite frankly, this is one time when I am happy to enjoy the fruits of someone’s labour! We truly are blessed in our part of this world.
My Mom did some of her growing up here, and she still talks about the days when peaches were so big they took two hands to hold, and getting a case of Okanagan fruit was a prized gift, each piece hand-wrapped in paper and presented like a box from Holt Renfrew. These precious boxes were Fancy (hence the F) and of course they were Fresh and in season only, as in tree-ripened fresh, not induced by some chemical process (another important F – now are you seeing where we are heading??) You will know by now if you are a regular reader that we do have a fondness for nostalgia (hey, there is an F in fondness, too! – maybe that is pushing it…) Indulge the nostalgia of summer for these last weeks and enjoy the fresh decadence in season with friends and family. (Okay, I'm done with Fs!)
A neighbour strolled by one morning this week as I was watering (not to worry, it was on my assigned day) and they mentioned that it was a shame that everything looked so great but yet the season was coming to a close. This may be true for flowers, but with the fruit, the bounty to which we have access is mind-boggling to say the least. I am literally inundated with fresh fruit, and I don’t want it to go to waste. What can I say, I come from a prairie upbringing – we would have been “fruitarians” if we had fruit trees in Manitoba. (Does anyone remember that scene in “Notting Hill” with the woman who wanted only fruit that had fallen from the tree, not those items that had been violently wrenched from their existence?) As a result, I am constantly working with "seconds" and gleaned fruit; we have fruit crisp, fruit compote, dried fruit, jams of various iterations, and of course no lack of fresh fruit in case you might have a hankering in between meals…
The thing that inspired me to write this week was in preparing the Sunday breakfast menu for our family reunion, planning fresh fruit and fruit syrup for the waffles we will make. The peaches this year are as big as my Mom described (for those of you who are younger, think “James and the Giant Peach” big). The cherries seemed to last forever (how could such decadence be legal?!) and we still have nectarines, plums and pears to come!! I can hardly wait to share our bounty with the relatives. Buckwheat waffles with fresh peach slices and cherry syrup ought to show them how good life can be...
In honour of the four seasons we enjoy I like to make the most of the one with local food in it. Stop by your favourite farmers’ market this weekend, or a fruit stand, or even look for local fruit at your favourite grocery store. Buy what's in season and eat it as soon as possible. Better yet, pick some if you have time! Hopefully you will remember to get a few for home too, so you can enjoy the waffle recipe I list below (yes, Eggos will do in a pinch but really, life is short so why not make the most of it?)
Here’s to Sunday breakfast, fresh fruit, and living in one of the best places on Earth!
(This recipe comes from one of my all-time favourite cookbooks, “The Frog Commissary Cookbook” ISBN 0385184565)
(they list it with strawberry butter, but they don’t live where there are fresh peaches)
- 1 cup buckwheat flour
- 1 cup white or whole wheat flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder (make sure it is fresh – not more than 4 months old)
- 2 eggs
- 1-3/4 cups milk
- ½ cup melted butter
- 1-1/2 cups finely chopped pecans (optional – I choose ½ tsp cinnamon when fruit is in season)
- Fresh fruit, sliced, for topping
- Maple or fruit syrup(s)
Preheat your oven to 200F.
Melt the butter. Set aside.
Sift together the flours, salt and baking powder. Beat the eggs till foamy and add the milk. Mix the liquid ingredients into the dry with as few strokes as possible, just barely smoothing out the lumps. Stir in the melted butter.
Follow directions on your waffle iron if any pre-greasing is required.
Stir in the pecans (or spice). Cook waffles till brown and crisp, about 3 minutes. Keep waffles warm in the oven on a rack.
Serve waffles hot with dishes of fresh fruit, whipped cream or yogurt, and maple or fruit syrup.
It used to be that families regularly ate together at a dining room table, and children were told to clean their plates, or there would be no dessert for them. Meals for the most part had a certain familiarity: cereal or toast for breakfast, a sandwich or soup for lunch and meat and potatoes with some sort of vegetable for dinner. Desserts and snacks were even straight forward, like cakes, pies and cookies or maybe cheese and crackers or a piece of fruit. Nowadays though, the world has gotten smaller and much more is shared, and demanded, amongst the populus. The grocery stores carry all manner of delicacies year-round, many of them at quite affordable prices. Ethnic cuisines are now incorporated into many families' "meat and potatoes" list of menus. I wonder where we will go next in varying the way we nourish ourselves?
How does your family eat? Are there days reserved for a "nice dinner", even amidst busy schedules; or is there no one in your house who enjoys cooking enough to bother? It's easy enough to buy prepared food and have a complete meal. The ready-made market even accommodates many trends and allergies in eating - gluten-free, dairy-free, and nut-free items have joined vegetarian and sugar-free products to make a much bigger category. There are all kinds of diets out there and many customers look to only buy organic or local fare when possible... so many more things to consider than just having rice or potatoes with the roast!
When you go out for a meal, what are the deciding factors in the place you choose? Are you looking for value - "cheap eats", or big portions? Are you willing to pay more for a dish that is made from scratch or using local ingredients ('cause those things cost more)? Do you believe that dining on the waterfront, or at the top of a mountain, or in the vineyard, is a worthwhile part of the experience and a worthy expense? Would you support a unique business to help ensure its continued success, or do you just need to grab a bite today wherever?
Grocery stores do promotions now too, not just the coupons of old. They have all kinds of discounts and specials, on items from around the world, at much the same price regardless of season. You can even get free items if you spend a large sum. This past week Superstore in West Kelowna was giving away a case of fresh California peaches if you spent over $200...
Should we have to consider so much responsibility for something so simple as food? Why yes, we should. Each of us is a part of the community, and the planet that provides our food. If we don't consciously support the kind of environment we want to see in the future, we might be surprised to find out what kind of place we live in. I'm not boycotting chain restaurants and big grocery stores, and I can't afford to support every cool foodie spot in town but I will not support promoting food that devalues the hard work done by our farmers and chefs and small business owners. I adore the biodiversity we have from the farming history in the region. I appreciate the education that the agri-tourism outlets provide to locals and visitors alike. I will fight to keep traditions alive so our history will not be lost and so innovations can consider every bit of past practice and effort.
My parents used to say that I should eat my sandwich crusts because there were children starving in Africa who didn't have a sandwich and I shouldn't be disrespectful. I have to tell you, even if I spent $200 last week I could not in good conscience have accepted free fruit as my reward, only to drive by the fruit stand at the end of the road.
I hope this provides food for thought. We can shape the world with our actions. If we don't engage in the process, we may find some alternatives tough to swallow.
In recent years we seem to have transcended the stereotype that paints Canadians as almost-like Americans but with a colder climate and a funny accent, thanks in no small part to those beer ads that advertise all the passions Canadians have. All the wonderful pastimes we enjoy are certainly part of what makes up our identity as Canucks, and I for one am proud and happy that we live in such a wonderful place.
I strolled through the “back 40” this morning with our dogs and listened to the resident marmot squeak his alert as he performed his sentry duty from the top of the orchard bins. The alpacas in the field had their ears perked up for his alarms, knowing that meant that Simon was likely headed their way and up for a morning barking alarm of his own. Birds of all kinds chirped in the trees and the sun beat down even early in the morning in true Okanagan fashion. As I walked between the fruit trees and brushed away the webs from the “Cirque du Soleil” spiders that trapeze from tree to tree, I had a wee chuckle. Even the insects are thrilled to be here, it seems. In the orchard I encountered a windfall; a recently fallen peach on the grass just looking for an owner. I picked it up and bit in, the juice running down my arm. As I tasted Okanagan summer at its ripest, I thought to myself, “It just doesn’t get any better than this!”
Once home I got to pick radishes and arugula from the garden, for the salad I will serve at our picnic dinner that night. Martin was planning his fruit salsa for the leftover salmon we had to enjoy. The dogs said hello to other neighbours out for a walk down the road; everyone is casual and comfortable as we all know one another. How fortunate we are that we can relax and enjoy our neighbours, that we live in a place where we can grow food in the yard and that we have the space to look out on a landscape full of promise.
Even if you don't have a garden or live near an orchard you can still enjoy the decadence of our region. Try this dessert or brunch item (if you want to substitute Greek yogurt for the whipped cream). You won't regret the time you spent preparing it, I promise! And if you're looking for tasty peaches, I can recommend the ones at Paynter's Fruit Market on the Westside!
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 stick butter, chilled
- 2/3 to 3/4 cup half and half, milk, or cream
- 1 egg yolk, for brushing
- 2 lb of fresh fruit in season (berries, peaches, or a combination!)
- 1 1/2 cups whipping cream
- 1/3 cup sugar
Wash your fruit very well; drain and let dry on a paper towel.
Freeze your mixing bowl so it is very cold once you start with the cream.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Set rack at center level.
Using a pastry cutter and your fingertips combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar on a clean table counter. Add the butter to the mixture and keep cutting with your pastry tool – try not to warm up the butter too much with your fingers. Make a well in the center and add the cream or milk, just until dough is moist using your tool. Do not overwork the dough, it’s ok to have pieces of butter showing. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface - fold 4 times but do not overwork it, be gentle.
Roll the dough 3/4-inch thick and cut your shapes – be creative (hearts, triangles - they don't have to be circles!) Transfer to non-stick mat and brush on an egg yolk to give it a shiny top. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until risen and golden brown. Don’t over bake! Let cool before assembling.
While it’s baking, slice the fruit. Sprinkle on 2-4 tablespoons of sugar to taste, just to help the fruit be juicy. Whip the cream until soft and add 1/3 cup sugar and finish to whip it but not too much. (Once you can tip the bowl and it doesn't slide, it's ready.) NOTE: If you are substituting Greek yogurt, you can just stir in a bit of honey to taste.
Assemble by cutting your cooled biscuit and add as much fruit and whipped cream as you want. Top with some fresh mint and icing sugar and voila!
Read more Happy Gourmand articles
- Gad-zukes! Aug 1
- What makes it all go round Jul 25
- Be bop, blues and breakfast Jul 18
- Tastes of summer Jul 11
- As Canadian as... Jun 27
- 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
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