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Time is the tastiest treat

I read an article this week that said couples who spend time together are happier, and live longer. 

I wondered just who had managed to bamboozle a government agency or research body into paying for that study, because it seemed like a no-brainer to me. 

Then I remembered all our friends who have kids, and it dawned on me that the study meant quality time with just the two people, not spending time in a group. One of the blessings of not having kids is that I can be more selfish. I don't mean that in a bad way, just that I can focus on what's important for my well-being a bit faster. I'd like to offer a few tips out there for those who have a longer list of people and obligations to work into their lives. 

You know that I'm going to mention food, so let's just get it out of the way - having a meal together, or even a snack, is a great way to share some quality time. Here are three suggestions - try one, or try them all.

If your kids are little, a planned dinner after they are put to bed could be an option. Prep your dishes ahead of time so you can whip up the meal more quickly and enjoy the time. Leave the dishes ‘til the next day, they won't go anywhere. :) Or, if you're too stressed to think of cooking, order in. Try something you know the kids won't eat and you'll feel decadent, which helps put you in the mood for selfish time.

If your kids are bigger, send them out to a movie, or, better yet, to a friend's house for a sleepover (they will likely be happy for the time to themselves, too). Then proceed as in #1 after the kids are in bed. If it's a sleepover, hopefully I don't need to suggest that you could have even more fun after dinner?
If it's in the budget, sneak away and leave the kids or other obligations (the laundry, the workout routine, the Christmas card list, etc.) at home.

And, wait - this is the most important part: Forgive yourself for taking one night off. Then enjoy your time together. It could be a movie, or a walk, or a dinner out, or even just a drink or dessert or an ice cream cone. But it's your time together, just you two.

My husband and I have enjoyed ‘date night’ almost every week since we met, 18 years ago. We go to a movie on Tuesdays (cheap night). Sometimes we grab a bite to eat first - sushi maybe, or a burger - but most times it's just the movie. I let him eat some of my popcorn, and he lets me have some of his licorice. After all, a friend's treat always tastes better, right? 

You might think this is odd quality time - how much can you share sitting in the dark, not talking? Well, you'd be surprised. We have great chats in the car on the way home, and we often bring up favourite scenes or lines from movies we particularly enjoyed. 

Now, full disclosure here: Martin and I met in the movie business, and I grew up in it. We both love the excitement of a good story, and we appreciate the craft of those who create all the ‘smoke and mirrors’ that draw us into the adventure. Movies have always been a common interest, and that is part of the magic for us. We fuel that interest with more stories and memories, so we have something to share. 

The more you are apart from your spouse, the more you need to find some kind of common thread that you can weave into the everyday fabric of your life together. Otherwise, you'll wake up one day each using a separate blanket.

I count my lucky stars that I found my soulmate, and at every meal we share at least one corny, starry-eyed look at each other. Food is a bond for us that fuels our hearts in more ways than one. 

If I were to watch our movie, I know it would be full of ups and downs, with more than a few laughs, but most importantly of all, it would have a happy ending.

Now get out there, and buy your lover a coffee . . . or a donut, at least!


Traditions, old and new

I was catching up with family news on Facebook this past week, and it occurred to me that I was reading a new sort of Christmas card. 

It made me think how little things have changed in my lifetime about this time of year. You may wonder if I have had a bit too much eggnog, but read on and see if you don’t agree. . . .

In years gone by, I would get a newsy letter this time of year, tucked inside the cards sent by cousins, aunts and old family friends. You could rely on the holiday season to find out how Craig and Bruce were doing in hockey, or if Pat had won the local bonspiel again, or if Myrna or Maxine had a new great recipe to share. 

Now I can see that on Facebook, complete with photo albums. As soon as a comment is made, we can all pipe in with our two cents’ worth. If a recipe is needed, everyone can offer their version. Email made the communication instant, and things like Facebook make it communal across the miles. Even though my mantle is mostly bare of cards, I am still rich with the support of my family and friends.

When I was a kid, my mom and I spent numerous evenings at the kitchen table during the holiday season, working on various projects for the house and for gifts. For the record, my mom figured all this stuff out before Martha ever made it to television.

We wrapped branches on wire frames for wreaths, we decorated and wrapped cookies to give, we coloured kraft paper to make our own unique wrapping for packages. 

I don’t have children of my own, but my Girl Guide girls have been busy painting and gluing and tying ribbons to create craft projects for the tree, or the door, or to be someone’s gift. They enjoy it just as much as I did, and wouldn't you know, the grown-ups appreciate the hard work and thoughtfulness just as they did in my day. It does my heart good to know that.

This time of year still seems to be the one season when we make the time to stop and enjoy a moment, instead of pressing on. One of my cousins posted an update on Facebook that sums it up: 

“. . . almost thought (he) saw the bottom of the laundry bin, found out there was still more and made mincemeat tarts instead.”

The rest of the year we feel we are supposed to stick to our obligations first, but at Christmastime we allow the urge to have fun to take over. My point was proven in another Facebook update that said my cousin needed to make shortbread, as the mince tarts were disappearing. In reply, a bit of holiday wisdom was offered from a friend on that topic:

“Shortbread always trumps laundry too. These trumps are the real truth behind why people have to buy new clothes in the holiday season. It has nothing to do with consumption of treats.”

Perhaps what I am trying to say is that Christmas encourages us to remember the joys children know to be everyday occurrences. We forget these wonderful moments when we grow up and get caught up in the rush of the day-to-day world, but the holiday season is the thing that resets our souls to some kind of balance. 

I keep hoping I will be able to improve my ability to switch on the kid in me, and use it all year long. In the meantime, I say keep practicing! Say hi to Santa, attend a Christmas concert and sing along, make mincemeat tarts instead of doing laundry . . . that reminds me, I have to go on Facebook to ask my cousin for his recipe.

50 years of food

I'm writing this column on my 50th birthday. That's a lot of cake and candles! 

Have to admit that I feel pretty good, better than I thought I would for a half century on the planet. The food I have consumed might have something to do with that, so here are some of my food memories and musings on how food has changed during my time, if you'll indulge a Birthday Girl this week. . . .

When I was a kid, food was simpler. Breakfast was cereal or toast, and porridge in the winter. Lunch was sandwiches, and dinner was meat and potatoes most nights. 

I remember discovering things like mangos and kiwis when they first appeared at the grocery store. Before that fruit was bananas, oranges, grapefruits, apples, pears and grapes - and they were not there all year round. 

Pasta was around, but a pasta dinner consisted of either lasagne or spaghetti and meatballs. Fish was available too, but it was more expensive, and the varieties were limited. We had salmon on the barbecue in summer, and halibut once in a while. I used to love a dinner called "finnan haddie" when I was little, which makes my mom laugh - she was ashamed to serve it because she considered it a ‘poor dinner’ (as in we should be eating better). It was canned haddock with a cream sauce, served with toast. I considered it a delicacy!

Once my parents started to travel, our whole family was subjected to their food adventures. A trip to California meant my brother and I learned how to make nachos. 

We made homemade salsa with canned tomatoes, as you couldn't find the stuff in jars at the grocery store back then. We grated cheese and built them like a card house (Cheese Whiz was a no-no in our house). We also had savoury crepes, with chicken in cream sauce or even shrimp in curry sauce. That was really cool! I think that was the point when I truly became a foodie.

My mom loved to let me play in the kitchen, and it became my art studio. I made jelly rolls and pies and cookies and squares. I learned how to play with spices and create my own flavour palette. 

One year my brother and I made chocolate mousse for Mother's Day, complete with coffee to enrich the flavour. Granted, it was coffee grounds we used . . . how was I to know, at the grand old age of 10, that ‘strong coffee’ meant the brewed stuff, not just heaping tablespoons? 

Both of us kids cooked meals too. My specialty was broiled pork chops with applesauce and fried rice, while Justin made awesome spaghetti Bolognese with garlic toast. Even building sandwiches was fun once we developed our palates. I remember one summer perfecting the ‘Dagwood’ (remember the Blondie cartoon character known for his huge sandwiches?). Bologna, thinly sliced red onion, cheddar cheese, tomato, homemade mayo, Dijon mustard, garden lettuce and, of course, a sliced dill pickle. Delicious!

By the time I moved out on my own, I had a book of my mom's favourite recipes all copied out. I added to it over the years, including the recipe for Hasenpfeffer that I made for my dad on Father's Day one year, and the recipe for Key Lime Pie I found after searching around (before the Internet) after discovering key limes at the market. Amidst a bookcase that is now five shelves full of favourites, that dog-eared notebook is still a treasured friend.

Half a lifetime ago, I spent a year in Nancy, France, which completely corrupted me into a passionate food & wine evangelist. I'll share another column devoted to my wonderful time there, but suffice to say, it was there that I confirmed what I knew in my heart: Sharing time around a table with good friends and good company is much of what makes a life full of happy memories.

The second half of my life has been much devoted to that pursuit. Fortunately I met and married a chef as passionate as I, and we have enjoyed countless times with friends and family in the kitchen and at the table. I have had the honour of being a part of my stepdaughter's passion and talent for food and cooking. I got to see my dad go from a meat and potatoes guy to a metrosexual foodie. :) And, thanks to my workout regime, I am still able to indulge in all kinds of delectable meals at home and abroad, despite being over the hill.

So, as a way to share my celebratory day I'd like to share one of my all time favourite recipes with you - Butter Tarts. I'm posting it on my Happy Gourmand Facebook page as well, if you'd like to try it out. Feel free to leave your comments.



Foodie on the road

In case you're wondering, this is not another article about National Doughnut Day, or the anniversary of the first hotdog, or celebrating the peanut butter sandwich. Rather, I want to offer a few tips for anyone, like me, who loves to enjoy food wherever they go.

How do you take a holiday that offers amazing food memories? 

Whether those memories are about a world-class doughnut (yup, I've had one) or a world-class meal at a restaurant (not to be missed), they can provide your tastebuds with stories for a lifetime.

We’ve just come back from a few days in Vegas, and since neither one of us is very interested in gambling, we focused on other entertainment. Having married a chef, both of us highly value a great meal. I know that for some, spending hundreds of dollars on dinner is an astronomical amount that could never be justified, but never fear, I can offer a few suggestions that are more about comfort food, and straightforward flavours. 

When Martin and I prepare for a holiday that has good food potential, we start researching far in advance. We keep notes of places we want to visit, or items we want to try, and ideas can come from recommendations, a Food Network TV show, or a magazine article. We also make a Google map of restaurants, markets, even doughnut shops :) Then I check Trip Advisor, as the amount of information from reviews can help me pick what fits our taste. Their City Guides are also a fantastic travelling tool, and don't even require WiFi, as they work on GPS to post map information. 

Once we start planning a specific trip, we have to think about allocating days for rich delicacies and lighter fare. It's important to make sure there is some activity between meals too, or by the end of the trip we simply couldn't eat any more. What often works is to do lots of walking. Sometimes we stumble upon other cool spots that way, too.

For our Vegas trip, we really did hit the jackpot. It was especially nice to travel with foodie friends. We had a meal at a restaurant owned by a chef that Martin has followed his whole career - Joel Robuchon. We also enjoyed a dinner on a patio opposite the Bellagio fountains, thanks to a friend's recommendation. And our notes told us about a breakfast place that had awesome chicken and waffles and BLT Bloody Marys. We sampled Guy Fieri's food, and our travel companions booked lunch at Todd English's original restaurant as well. I can't post all the beautiful pictures here, but I will be posting many on my Happy Gourmand blog.

I will add that we are eating salad this week for dinner, and getting back to full workouts. As I do my push-ups in the morning and dish up some yogurt, I smile, and remember all the wonderful flavours and the quality time with friends. 

I wholeheartedly recommend everyone try a foodie holiday - or at least some foodie time during your next trip. You never know when you could find a world-class doughnut (in case you want my recommendation, try The Doughnut Plant in New York City).



More Happy Gourmand articles

About the Author

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

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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