Wednesday, April 23rd12.7°C
Happy Gourmand

Chocolate really is good for you!

This weekend you should just be enjoying your treats. Whether you are celebrating the end of Lent and a traditional Easter feast, or you are helping the kids with all the loot from the treasure hunt it's all good. Just in case you are feeling the slightest bit guilty though, here are some tidbits to help you over the hump... you know, the one right under the bunny's ears you just nibbled? :)

Chocolate has all kinds of great qualities.

  • It has been proven to improve people's moods - eating chocolate releases calming endorphins which helps you deal with stress. The high magnesium content also improves your mood.
  • Cacao, the natural bean from which chocolate is made, contains flavonoids which are an antioxidant. That means they are good for your heart, and your immune system. Dark chocolate has more flavonoids than an apple, so an ounce or two will do you good.
  • Chocolate can help lower blood pressure. Polyphenols in chocolate help increase blood flow in your system. (Note that milk chocolate does not offer the same absorption rate unfortunately).
  • Daily consumption of dark chocolate may lower cholesterol (this has not been extensively tested, but results so far are positive).
  • It can help your skin - they have proven that nothing in chocolate causes blemishes, and scientists in Australia believe that compounds in dark chocolate contain UV filters which help protect you against sun exposure

Chocolate also has a rich history, if you'll pardon the pun. It was so precious to the ancient civilizations of the Olmecs and the Aztecs that is was considered like currency. They also thought it had great powers, making you wise and sexy ! This could be why they consumed it regularly, even without any added sugar (have you ever tasted cocoa on its own? It's bitter stuff!) Cocoa is still traded as a commodity on world markets, so it does retain some of its precious nature.

Chocolate also has incredible trivia attached to it, having been an integral part of our culture for so long. Did you know...?

  • Alfred Hitchcock used chocolate syrup for the blood in the infamous shower scene in Psycho? (remember, the movie was in black and white).
  • Hershey's now produces 80 million Kisses every day.
  • George Cadbury, who was a Quaker, produced his hot chocolate drink as an alternative to alcohol.
  • One chocolate chip can give a person enough energy to walk 150 feet.
  • Henri Nestle, a Swiss scientist, first became involved with chocolate because of his work with creating a formula for children in areas where refrigeration was a challenge. He created a powdered milk formula and condensed milk, which was added to some of the first milk chocolate produced.

So, do you feel better now? See all the great things you are supporting by nibbling a bit of chocolate? If it's dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa you get to claim the best benefits, but we won't argue over details this week. Just remember to share :)


Politics, religion & dinner - oh my!

Are there subjects that are off-limits at your dinner table? One of the age-old debates in the western world is the separation of church and state, and certainly politics and religion tend to be heated debates at the best of times. But you could argue that the convivial nature of the table might be the best place to settle the toughest battles.

I read an interesting article in the New York Times this week about the dilemma some chefs are having with situations in their restaurants. There was a chef who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. A woman at another restaurant was asked to stop breast-feeding her baby in the dining room. Then there was the chef who wanted to prevent diners from wearing guns... you can imagine all of these are rather inflammatory issues for many people. When you are feeding strangers at your table, is it appropriate to make them abide by your rules?

Granted, this article is from the United States, and they tend to see more extremes than we do. (For example, the issue of wearing a gun in a restaurant is not something we need to worry about here.) There are many topics that can be included though, such as allergies and dietary restrictions and nutritional information, or family versus adult establishments. These in addition to political issues can be enough to upset your digestion.

Some people are activists and taking a stand is important to them. Alice Waters is known for her Berkeley restaurant, Chez Panisse, that began a movement recognizing the farmers that supplied ingredients for the menu dishes. She is also known worldwide for her work with Slow Food and The Edible Schoolyard Project, teaching children about the importance of food. Many other chefs and owners prefer to stick to the food and not voice their opinions; as diners, we will go to their place or not as we see fit.

Does it matter to you if a restaurant represents a particular opinion? If there are numerous options, will it make a difference if we support one place or another?

There is a lot to be said for supporting like-minded businesses, and offering numerous options is one of the luxuries we have in our part of the world. If I don't like a certain kind of food, I don't go to a restaurant that serves that kind of food. Isn't it just as easy to support the places that have an environment in which I'm comfortable, instead of complaining about the ones I wouldn't enjoy anyway? I guess my point is that if we can look at this from a "cup half full" perspective, then maybe chefs and restaurant owners can look at it from a "room half full" perspective too. They can serve the people who do come in, and not worry about the ones who don't. The old expression, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen" seems to work in the same way here, only politics are hotter than any kitchen, it seems.

Here's to a happy meal, with no dinner conversation that spoils your digestion :)

What is the value of good food?

How much are you willing to spend on good food? I don't mean a quick stop for a snack or something at a drive-thru, I mean a tasty piece of fresh-caught fish, or the best cherries you can get in the summer, or a handmade treat like a pastry or piece of pie? Often I hear the discussion on food prices centering around the best deals, and I wonder how much we value good fresh food.

I realize this can be a touchy subject that has many elements...

  • Should we have to pay more for organic food? Is it worth more? Do you even care if you eat organic? What is the difference?
  • If we want to buy strawberries in winter, should we expect to pay the same price as in summer? Are we willing to pay the price they cost to be shipped from somewhere else or grown specially in a greenhouse?
  • Do you think the price of a handmade chocolate chip cookie at an artisan bakery should be the same price as the mass-produced chocolate chip cookie at a chain store? Which one would you buy?

Sometimes people will say, "Oh, I could make that myself". It's true, we could make coffee at home, but look how many people pull into the drive-thrus at Timmy's and Starbucks? Time is worth something and preparing things also has to be factored into the equation. I know that I can save money if I don't stop at the drive-thru or make my lunch instead of buying it, but there are times when it's more worthwhile for me to let someone else take care of it.

What about prepared food? Let me ask you, would you pay more for your Mom's homemade cookies than for a run-of-the-mill cookie from anywhere? I have to say I would, not only because it tastes better but also because I love and respect the time my Mom puts into making them, and the way she cooks some just the way I like them - crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.

When we go out for a meal, sometimes we like something simple and inexpensive - maybe a morning pastry at Sandrine's or a poutine at Okanagan Street Food or forno pizza and a beer at Smack Dab. Other times we like to treat ourselves, and go to maybe, Ricardo's or Raudz or Poppadoms. Each experience is different, which is part of the charm; all of them are delicious and we always feel like we have been well looked after by the staff. Not having to worry about any of the set up or clean up makes a meal more relaxing, don't you think?

I'm not trying to say that we should all become food snobs and only eat organic food or dine at the "best" restaurants. (I put best in quotations because I do believe there is a best greasy spoon cafe the same as there is a best fine dining restaurant.) I do think it's important to keep our food in context though, and I am a firm believer that supporting the little local guys is a great way to keep the variety alive.

Whatever food you are eating, I wish you good tastes :)

(when I said I was writing about cookies this week, my husband had to add a wee something...)


Chef Martin says:

Fresh cookies are awesome... so making them at home is a no brainer. Even at the best pastry shops sometimes they will bake cookies for two days, or bake the cookies then freeze them, so not always as fresh as yours at home. A fresh cookie is so good, warm, crunchy, chewy, not too sweet, not greasy. I love cookies!!

If you feel like baking, here's a recipe I like that Kristin bakes at home: Frog Commissary Cookies


The rainbow in a spring garden

She says:

I have been looking at the garden seed catalogues trying to plan out what we will grow this year in our wonderful garden, but it seems every year the dilemma of deciding becomes more difficult. It is bad enough I have to choose between beets and turnips or decide whether the extra space at the back is best for potatoes or squash – now I have to choose what colour I like my vegetables to be! (For those interested, the beet versus turnip debate is actually no contest, as the Chef does not like turnips enough, no matter what colour they are.)

I know we live in a world where technology allows for life to go at the speed of light, and traditions and old ways are meant to be expanded and revamped, but really, do we need to change the colour of our vegetables? Where does it stop??

Don’t get me wrong – I am not talking about Mother Nature’s variations, like green and yellow beans. A little bit of variety is a good thing – the spice of life and all that. However, in the first place, what is the point in having a funny-colored veggie if it doesn’t stay that colour when you cook it and in the second place, if the colour is only skin deep, does that even count? Aren’t we supposed to consider what is inside?? Perhaps this is a sign that we should only eat food uncooked and unpeeled. (Certain trend-watchers would say this is a topic for another column!)

Part of me is intrigued by these fantastic foods. There is a Roald Dahl aspect to the idea of a garden that has an imagination of its own, like the Giant Peach or Charlie’s Chocolate Factory. You have to choose wisely to maximize your exotic efforts, as often it seems to take extra energy for the plant to produce a more unique product. Sometimes the Chef just smiles and shakes his head, but I enjoy the taste of lemon cukes and green zebra tomatoes. He did use some of our weird and wonderful tomatoes in his menus last summer, and he liked the striped Chioggia beets we planted. However, purple dragon carrots were most impressive in name, and orange cauliflower was just more difficult to grow than the white variety. Creativity is required when appreciating Mother Nature, though, and what would a garden be without a little experimentation?

I should add that carrots actually were purple to start with, and only became orange more for marketing reasons (wouldn't you know it!). They originally were grown for their seeds and leaves, as many of their relatives are still - dill, cumin and fennel are all in the same family of plants. They are recorded as being purple in the 10th century in the Middle East and Europe, and it wasn't until the 17th century in the Netherlands that orange carrots appeared in quantity. Breeding of different colours and varieties has occurred to make carrots sweeter and less woody as some root vegetables can be, but the orange colour was more appealing to markets in the western world - settlers took orange carrots to England and America in the 17th century and the rest of course, is history.

I guess at the end of the day (or the summer) I should just marvel at it all – even the green vegetables that grow quietly in their rows. I suppose having a colourful garden plot is another way to salute individuality… and besides, can someone who, as a girl, liked to wear red and pink striped socks with her favourite purple jumper really judge what colour a carrot should be?


Chef Martin says:

I really like being able to choose vegetables from our own garden for cooking, and I enjoy visiting the farmer’s market when it is in season, too. I don’t specifically look for weird or exotic foods, but they are fun to use from time to time. One of my contributions to the garden was some golden raspberry canes, and I don’t mind saying, they are very tasty!

I don’t mind yellow kiwis either. Actually, in the last few months I have used broccolini for many high end dinners I have done for people. The comments were nice, as many people had never tried broccolini before. It’s not a very complex vegetable: it’s a cross between broccoli and rapini (which is also known as broccoli raab). It’s long and skinny and tastes similar to Gai Lan, a Chinese green vegetable. (It takes very little time to cook, so watch it carefully.)

I don’t really mind what they cross vegetables with as long as it is another natural vegetable and not part of the genetically reproduced stuff that we hear about on the science network. Although, if the children of farmers don’t decide to take over our food chain as farmers themselves, who is going to feed us veggies in 30 years from now? Maybe genetic veggies will be the only choice left. Over the years, Hot Houses have created the perfect tomato, always the same color, the same size and the taste is also often the same… BLAND as hell! So this year, I will chose to plant heirloom tomatoes just like last year. Go visit Veseys Seeds or West Coast Seeds for good seeds online or ask at your nursery to help you choose what's best for your plot.

Support your farmers and promote good eating! Check out a great new page on Facebook called Soil Mate that has a collection of local farmers, markets and all that good stuff.

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:  wowmentor@shaw[email protected]

Check out her website here:



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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