What good is a great dinner if there is no planet to live on?
Did I get your attention? I was pondering what to write about this week and happened upon this video put out by National Geographic. It deals with sustainability. We talk about sustainable agriculture and sustainable economy, but in using the word do we really consider the seriousness of not living on a sustainable planet? Buying local veggies isn't going to help if I don't consider other elements like how much plastic I use and where it goes. Do we even think about the many modern conveniences that make up our day and how they affect the future of our families and our planet? Let me remind you of a few of them...
- Do you make a cup of coffee in your pod coffee maker? The plastic pod, is it recycled??
- When you pack lunches (do you use pre-packaged items like juice boxes, single portion crackers & cheese or cookies in plastic, frozen items to be reheated?
- Are breakfast items in single portion packages?
- Does your commute involve a stop at Timmy's or Starbucks or the like? Do you use a travel mug or take it in a to-go cup?
- When you go for lunch do you grab fast food, in a plastic wrapper?
- at the kids' soccer practice, or your yoga class, do you drink bottled water? From a flat of bottles you bought somewhere, or a personal bottle?
- When you stop to pick up groceries, do you have reusable bags to use, or do you pay for the plastic ones?
- How much packaging is included with your groceries for dinner? Do you notice if non-recyclable styrofoam is part of packages?
- After dinner, do you pack up leftovers in reusable containers, or disposable ones?
- Are you able to take the empty pickle and salad dressing jars to the recycling depot, or do you just never have time?
Those are 10 times during the day you can consider the amount of disposable packaging that you are using in your everyday life. I know it's not realistic to expect that we can all go back to basics and give up all of this convenience with the pace of life we have today. But I would ask that you take a moment to watch this video and think of the consequences of our current pace.
I argue for the value of fresh food mostly from a taste perspective, but the concept of sustainability involves a sense of responsibility as well. In the best interest of our species, I do believe that a holistic approach to our food - and how it is presented - is important to our long term existence. In simpler terms, every little bit counts and we can be positive role models for the younger generations.
Here are 10 ideas on how to minimize our consumption of plastic and maximize our recycling efforts:
- avoid purchasing single portion items, and buy larger packages instead with less material
- put portable food and drink into reusable personal containers that can be washed instead of recycled or put in the garbage
- use water from the tap or a filtered system instead of bottled water
- ask for minimum packaging when taking items to go (use personal containers like travel mugs)
- don't use any more bags than you have to when purchasing fruits, veggies, etc. Reuse them as much as possible.
- take your own grocery totes to carry purchases home
- organize recycling of as many items as possible - use the "carpool" concept to share drop-offs with neighbours or friends for things that don't get picked up, or look out for non-profit groups that might be doing events like bottle drives
- avoid buying food that comes in excess or non-recyclable packaging (e.g. don't choose the eggs in sytrofoam containers)
- put leftovers in reusable washable containers instead of plastic wrap or bags
- look at fun ways that you can use items instead of sending them to recycling - wine corks and caps can make wreaths and picture frame decorations; colourful wrappers can be used in frames, over small furniture pieces or even as wallpaper in bathrooms and hallways - check Pinterest for ideas!
I'm not trying to preach, just open up your mind to the idea that there might be a bit more you could do to help make a positive change. I know after I watched the video it made me consider how I could do better.
Who doesn't want to be a better person, make a difference in the world, in some small way?
Just a thought, while you sip your coffee... out of a non-disposable mug :)
As I sit here writing, there is a goldfinch outside the window chirping. He sounds a bit like our dog, Simon, when he has one of his many squeaky toys in his mouth. It's the same demanding "See me!" kind of voice. I wonder if this little fellow is not Mother Nature's PR representative for Indian summer, reminding me to enjoy the last of the wonderful colours and tastes and smells before fall kicks in for real. I'll have to hurry and finish this column so I can get outside :)
I love Indian Summer. I feel like I've won the lottery, gaining a prize that I really didn't expect but hoped for ardently. Summer is such a busy time for us that I'm always wistful around Labour Day, thinking, "I wish we'd had more free time to lay back and enjoy the heat". September is harvest month, and with cooler temperatures it becomes a race to get everything in jars and freezer bags before it spoils or gets frostbitten. Not to mention the garden has to be packed up for winter! With the heat we've had of late, my garden is on its second wind. All the flowers are in full blossom again - more lavender, hyssop, petunias, marigolds, pinks, cosmos, even snapdragons! The herbs are giving it one last go, sprouting more shoots. The tomatoes figure they'll try for more fruit too - I have to scold them like unruly children and pinch their sprouts to make sure the bounty I already have will ripen. I'm usually a bit worn out by this time of year but all this natural enthusiasm is spurring me on.
I have to admit, part of me is suspicious that this might mean a particularly hard winter. Are we being given a chance to stock up just so we might survive the toughness to come? Mother Nature has a way of balancing the good with the bad, don't you know... Well, all the more reason to hunker down and make the most of it! Here at Rabbit Hollow we have put up over 50 jars of jam, chutney and hot sauce so far, frozen about 20 pounds of fruit and dried another 20 pounds of fruit and wild mushrooms. (Yes, you're right - if there is a nuclear holocaust, the party is at our place. I keep the wine cellar stocked too. ) Next up is tomato sauce, Damson plum jam, plum tart, peach juice and dried pear chips. We'll collapse in a heap about the end of October probably about the time of the first snowfall.
All this work is more than most people consider worthwhile, I know. We give food gifts to Martin's clients, and to all our friends and family for Christmas. Sharing the bounty is the other great reward. We also love the decadence of opening a jar of homemade garden tomato sauce in January to have with pasta. It sounds corny, but it really is like letting loose a dose of sunshine. The flavours bring back the taste of summer, and the work is worth every tired moment when we dive into dinner.
Some people play baseball or hockey, some quilt or knit or tie fishing flies... our hobby is in the kitchen. We really do believe what Julia Child said:
"Find something you're passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it."
(I also like that she said, "People who love to eat are always the best people.")
Dining Etiquette Part 2
For Part 1, click here
I'd like to continue my series on dining etiquette in hopes of getting everyone back on the same page. It seems we have lost the common language of the table and it's no longer clear what message is being transmitted between the dining public and the service staff. My mission is to help us all have a better time by posting some of the old shortcuts that allow us to communicate non-verbally at the table. Your parents used to tell you to mind your P's and Q's, didn't they? Well, here's the new version, where I tell you which tool to use for peas and quinoa (pardon my alliterary humour)…
Did you see "Pretty Woman" years ago at the theatre? Remember Julia Roberts learning that you use the cutlery from the outside in? That's the easy way to remember the basic rule. Here are some of the specific details, to help make you more comfortable:
- A decorative "plate" at your setting when you sit (often silver or gold finish, and lighter than a china plate) is called a charger. You don't eat off this one, it's just decoration and used to "charge" or hold the other dishes to come.
- Once you are seated, the expectation is that you will take your napkin from your plate or from inside a glass and put it in your lap. In fine dining places, the host may do this when they seat you at the table.
- Salad forks and soup spoons which are usually the first course are the easiest ones to grab being the furthest away from your plate.
- A bread knife is often placed on top of that little side plate (yours is the one to the left of your main plate, not the right.)
- If you are using a knife for a first course, it will be a "regular" knife, often a bit smaller than the one on the inside near the plate. If you have a steak or roasted meat for main course, you may have a steak knife with a sharper edge. The proper way to set the knife at the place setting is with the blade in towards the plate. (A bit of formal dining trivia for you: this goes back to the Medieval days of visiting lords dining with their own knives. Placing the blade in signified you meant no harm to your host. Another note: Although forks were used by the ancient Greeks and Romans, they didn't become common in Western culture until the 11th century in Italy, where they proved useful for pasta.)
- Water glasses are either tumblers (with no stem) or have a shorter stem than the wine glass, and they ought to be the glass on the right, with wine glasses going in a diagonal line to the left (towards the middle of your setting).
- If you have more than one glass, the smaller one is for white wine, bigger for red. A skinny one is for sparkling wine, and a really small one is for a dessert or fortified wine.
- Dessert cutlery is usually above the plate. A spoon and fork was the classic setting for dessert, with both to be used for the food (not spoon for coffee or tea as is sometimes the case now - if there are 2 spoons, one is for coffee). You would "cut" the dessert with your fork (in your left hand if you're right handed) and push it onto the spoon to eat it with your right hand. (Another bit of historical dining trivia: A dessert spoon was a larger spoon, and is used in recipes from the 17th and 18th centuries. This measurement is what is now called a "tablespoon".)
Okay, so now you know what to do with everything in front of you. Once they start to serve, what do you do? Classic service should be able to operate without you saying anything. Here's the Julia Roberts lesson: The servers will come from your right to serve a plate and take it away from the left. (This is not used much anymore, what with tables against a wall and people leaning in for conversations. The instinct is to serve from your right, though so it's good to be aware of that at least.)
How do they know when to clear your plate? Good question!
- If you put your knife and fork on your plate together, parallel to each other, then that is the classic signal for "I'm finished with this course" - even if you have food left on the plate.
- If you leave your fork and knife at opposite sides, then that says "I'm just taking a break, I am still eating this course". In fine dining circumstances the rule is not to clear the table until everyone is done, but in catering usually they will clear finished plates once most of the people are done eating.
Do you feel better now? Got a bit of an idea of what is expected of you at the table? In closing, here a few other little tips so you can avoid some of the common "faux pas" or pitfalls of the inexperienced diner...
- Try not to move out of your "spot" or clutter it up. If you have your chair away from the table, for example, the server will have a hard time serving you food and drink. If you have packages, see if they can be put somewhere away from the seating area.
- If you have any dietary concerns or questions about the menu, ask right away! And know that without any advance notice, the kitchen may not be able to make adjustments for you. On the other hand, if you tell your host or the restaurant when you confirm your attendance (reservation, RSVP) then they will almost always let you know what they can do for you.
- When you're done the last course, DON'T put your napkin on your plate. If you're done eating and you want to take it from your lap, put it to the right of your plate.
- When the servers clear the dishes, it's actually easier if you don't hand them your plate. They will have a system to stack plates so they can carry as many as possible and clear quickly and neatly. You risk upsetting their balancing act if you hand them something. (The exception may be if you're against a wall and they have to reach over the table to get to you. In this case, don't stack plates, just hand them one at a time.)
- If you're a smoker and you like to get up between courses for a smoke break, be conscious of the timing of the meal (it’s better to ask how much time you have than come back to cold food that should be hot). Only in the best fine dining establishments will they wait for your return, and even then they won't be happy about it if they don't know you're getting up.
- If you are an extreme foodie and need to take pictures and tweet about your food, be quick about it. The staff and host want you to enjoy your meal when they serve it, not ten minutes later when you're done posting it on Instagram and it's gone cold :)
Now you're all set! You can enjoy a stress-free experience dining out and know you're sending the right messages. Just one last suggestion for you:
- If you enjoyed your meal, thank your host. It's good to be specific - mention anything you especially liked. If you're paying for your meal, tip your server, mention great food and/or service to a manager. We don't often take the time to say anything when we have a good experience, and it really does mean a lot.
- If there was something lacking in your experience, then speak up, ideally as soon as possible. Give the host or staff a chance to fix it, hopefully for you that time and at the very least for the next time or the next person. If we don't say anything then they might not even know we weren't happy!
As I write this, Martin is boiling fifteen kilos of plums on our stove…it's the time of year when we get creative with the seemingly endless bounty from the orchard and garden. I thought it only fair that I share our inspiration with you, along with a bit of trivia you might like to pass on at your next cocktail party :) You see, we have a plum tree in our yard that deserves attention, not just because it is loaded with fruit, but because it is a unique fruit that creates the most wonderful jam. Our tree bears greengage plums, or as the French like to call them, “Reine Claudes”.
The greengage plum is an old variety that was developed in France, and apparently was brought to England in the 1700’s by a Rev. John Gage, who found them at the Chartreuse Monastery. (Perhaps this helped in their English name; these plums are truly halfway between green and yellow in colour, the definition of chartreuse.) They found their way to “the colonies” in America shortly after, and were in the gardens of American Presidents Washington and Jefferson, but then their popularity declined soon after. Of course, at Rabbit Hollow, that just makes them even more endearing. The other interesting thing about them is that they grow true from seed, making them a bit like an heirloom plant.
Greengages are known for being one of the best dessert plums, and so they make delicious jams and compotes as well as crisps, crumbles and the like. I have dried them and used them in Christmas pudding, too. But a few years ago Martin got the idea of making a condiment that he could use with his BBQ meats. He created a wonderful chutney full of flavour from not only the plums but also the many kinds of peppers we have in the garden, and the usual onions, a bit of garlic, ginger, and few other bits of inspiration that struck him. Hours of simmering on the stove and voila! “Pork Jam” was born.
It’s the season of the harvest. When Mother Nature gives you so much to play with, you have to get creative to use it all. I like the idea of having a sort of safety deposit box in the pantry, full of all kinds of flavours that can be pulled out in the dead of winter to bring back the sunshine and warmth of summer. We have now developed "Lamb Jam", "Turkey Jam" and even "Chicken & Egg Jam" to our condiment collection, not to mention the usual "Toast & Cheese Jam".
Here’s hoping you are having fun with all the bounty, too. If you aren’t the type to make your own, watch for those sparkling jars at the farmers’ markets and bring one home to enjoy. I remember once even finding a jar of “Toe Jam” at a small market in Salmon Arm. It tasted a lot like raspberry, but much better, likely due to some secret inspiration.
Read more Happy Gourmand articles
- The dog days of summer Aug 30
- Etiquette - it's not about being a jerk Aug 16
- Stop and smell the flowers Aug 2
- Does there have to be an app for that? Jul 26
- Rock around the clock Jul 19
- Is there such a thing as adult food? Jul 12
- Too much of a good thing? Jul 5
- Midsummer madness Jun 21
- Good food, good friends Jun 14
- Chickens don't have fingers, do they? Jun 7
- The Wisdom of Pooh May 31
- Highs and lows May 24
(Click for RSS instructions.)