We have just been through the hottest part of the year, known from ancient times as "the dog days of summer" in honour of Sirius, the Dog Star. It is the brightest star in the sky, so bright that people thought it added to the heat of the season. In July and August is when the rise of Sirius coincides with the sun. Maybe that is part of why it's so hot here in the summer! August is definitely a time when people and the creatures alike are affected by the pervasive heat. There are more holidays and less work, and it's harder to stay caught up with the growth in the garden and the laundry and all those things on the to-do list. It seems the best thing to do is just head to the beach or your favourite patio.
The Greeks and Romans used to think that this time of year actually caused disease and hysteria; they believed that dogs panting more in the heat of summer signified the effect of Sirius on their souls. It seems today that ice-cold beverages, frozen treats and water sports are the best cure for any such ailment to man or beast :)
I hope you had a chance to enjoy the sultry Dog Days. Now we're headed into harvest, so you'd better get your apron on and your work gloves ready. There are jams, pickles, pies and sauces to make from fresh peaches, plums and tomatoes. Then there are carrots, beets and squash to pick and eat (don't try trading them with your neighbours, they have their own problems of abundance!) And just when you think it's time to sit back and relax, you have to think about packing it all up for winter!
Where does the time go? Can you believe that eight months - three quarters! - of 2014 is already done and gone?? I don't know about you, but the only way I'm sure is to think about how tired I am from all the stuff I've done. We have worked harder not just for the bank account but also for the larder. I am pleased to say I managed to dry cherries, make apricot jam, gooseberry syrup, peach pancake sauce and plum chutney. The veggie garden looks like more of a jungle than the rows I hoped for in early summer, but we had pasta tonight with fresh-picked zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, and herbs. That was worth a toast before we dug in!
In thinking about the Dog Star and its significance to the season I figure the best philosophy is to think like my dog, Ella. She lives in the moment, always making the most of the here and now. That's what every season in life is all about, isn't it - creating moments? The start of summer was signaled by the taste of apricots from the orchard, and then it was cherries and peaches to represent the decadence of the season. The ice cream at Paynter's Fruit Market, perched on a freshly made waffle cone, was another tasty memory. Now that it's cooling off, the pears have taken their cue and are fast ripening. I will admit I have held off tasting one; I feel like I would be giving in to fall if I eat a pear in the orchard before September. There's no need to rush, right?
In the last week I've seen three articles on "what not to do" when dining out, and that made me think... have we really become so self-centered that we don't realize when we are being unreasonable? Since in today's world so many kinds of behaviour are considered acceptable, it shouldn't be that hard to stay between the lines, I thought. So why are we such demanding diners? What makes our expectations unrealistic? Here are a few of my ideas on 5 of my pet peeves; I'd love to hear your theories too. You can comment on my Facebook page if you like.
1. Why can't you take our party of 9 (or 12 or 15) ?! We can sit at a few tables...
This one isn't obvious for people who don't know the industry, but this is a disaster waiting to happen for most restaurants. They want to be able to make you all happy, and at the same time, but if you're split among tables then that is virtually impossible. Think of what it would be like if you had separate groups in your dining room for Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner, all waiting for you to cook and make drinks for them as they gave orders. Bar and kitchen orders can easily get prepared minutes apart and then before you know it each table is on its own timetable. That's not going to make for a fun birthday party, is it? When you have a large group (anything over 6 is considered large at a restaurant), call them before you set out down the road to start your evening if you didn't think of it before. Many places even have private rooms they can offer with just a bit of planning.
2. Why can't we sit on the patio?! We made a reservation.
This one is simple if you take a step back and think about it - you can't reserve the weather. How would you like it if the restaurant host told you that your reservation required you sit outside since that is what you booked, even if it was pouring rain or blowing wind? Unfortunately restaurants cannot afford to book one outside table and one inside table for each reservation, so the best you usually get is "first dibs" on patio tables if they are available. That being said, they won't likely give you the table for 10 if you are only 2 and that is the one open patio spot. If you're really stuck on being on the patio then plan to arrive at a less busy time (7 pm is not that time).
3. Why can't I be like Meg Ryan and order a customized dish?!
There are restaurants that will work to provide variations or substitutions on menu items, but they are either higher end places or they charge for all the changes. Go to a top notch restaurant and they might not even have a menu; they prepare what is in season or what fits their theme. If this is not your cup of tea, then your choice is easy: Don't visit this place. If you wanted Chinese food would you go to MacDonalds? Then don't expect your neighbourhood pub to be able to reconstruct their burger to your taste, or offer 10 different dishes so you can have anything you might like in one place. That would cost them much more to keep all that inventory and it would take more cooks to prepare all that stuff. Then you'd pay higher prices and maybe pay for parking because they would have to be in a higher traffic location. Every restaurant can't be everything for everyone. Enjoy the difference!
4. Why doesn't the menu say what's in the dishes?! How do I know what I can eat with my allergy?
Okay, another easy solution but it does require a leap of faith... engage the server to find out what works with any sensitivities or allergies. Call ahead if you are extremely concerned. And if I may, I'll interject my customer service self in here for a sec... Please, please let the restaurant team know how this worked out. If the server was helpful and knowledgeable (I hope) then thank them, and mention it in a comment card or to a manager if you see one. If they aren't helpful or can't get answers for you, mention that too so that the place can improve. They won't know what's missing if the customers don't tell them.
Another important point here is to gauge the place to any dietary restriction you might have. If you can't stand spicy food, then a place that advertises the number of hot dishes they offer might not be your best choice. If you're vegetarian, a BBQ joint isn't the best fit usually. Just sayin' :)
5. Why can't we do whatever we like?! We're paying to be here.
Let's just clarify first, you're paying for the experience of a meal, in space that has a certain ambience. So, the behaviour is in accordance with that space - certain things are acceptable in a sports bar that are not as welcome in a 5 star dining room. Just because you bring your kids (or friends) doesn't mean they get to wander around, scream or yell, write on the furniture with the crayons they were given, etc. Please be conscious of other diners and remember that you are in a public place where others want to enjoy a good time too. Perhaps the restaurant has a place they can store your stroller if it's a large one, so it doesn't block the aisle? If you have to take a phone call in a loud room, how about excusing yourself instead of adding to the noise? I know you're caught up in having a fun evening, but so is everyone else.
I know we all have our pet peeves. And we're all human, imperfect and likely to goof up on a regular basis. Let's make a deal - we all try to work on having a good time (if the parking spot is far away from the door, we'll try to remember not to bark at the hostess - it's not her fault). We all try to remember our manners (please and thank you work wonders, and putting your knife and fork together when you're done eating is a handy signal). Maybe it will spread beyond the dining room, and people will be polite and considerate on the road and in the office too! (we can always hope, right?)
I'm sorry there is no column for these first two weeks of August. I just ran out of time. Summer is the very busy work season for Martin and I, and I couldn't squeeze in any more activities after the catering work and the WOW service work and the laundry and tending the garden and walking the dogs and working out... the few minutes I had to spare I put into savouring the early morning sun as I watered our wonderful backyard garden, and enjoying the wacky flowers that grow there. We had our summer block party too, hosting 50 of our neighbours and friends for a pizza-making feast and social afternoon at Rabbit Hollow. It was great to see everyone. I wish the clean-up fairy hadn't taken the day off though :)
I do wish I could have fit more into any given day. But at some point you can't do more. So, savour the moment. As my Mom says, "stop and smell the flowers".
For more photos, you can catch up with me on my Happy Gourmand Facebook page. If you want to see our backyard, join us for an event at Rabbit Hollow sometime!
Talk to you soon.
When I was young my parents talked about how life was simpler when they were kids. They bemoaned the fact that life was so busy. I remember cartoons that touted the advent of inventions that would make life easy again - you know, like the moving sidewalks and fancy appliances the Jetsons had in their kitchen. Isn't it funny how things work out? Now when people want something taken care of, the comment is usually, "there's an app for that!". All the inventions that were to make things easier have just allowed us to pack even more into the day. So much for lazy time. Even kids have "play dates" planned out for them. And there is a gizmo for everything..
Did you know that you can buy a cookie dipper? It's true, no more messy fingers when you dunk your cookie in your glass of milk, there is a tool you can buy. They come in packs of four, I guess so you don't have to dip alone :)
The ultimate sign of decadence used to be having someone peel you a grape. I didn't find a gadget for that (entrepreneur alert!!) but there is a Grape Cutter out there. And, wait there's more - it works on cherry tomatoes too!
And I'm sure you were getting tired of wrapping leftover food in plastic wrap or aluminum foil, or worse yet, a simple square or round container. Well, worry no more - you can now wrap your half-avocado in an Avocado Saver, store your half-pepper in a Pepper Saver, save your tomatoes from bruising in a Tomato Saver, and bring your banana for lunch in its own Nana Saver. Not to mention you don't need to cut into a lemon or lime to have a squeeze of juice; simply use The Stem and spritz out what you want from the pump attached to the tube in your fruit. Aren't you relieved?
Are you the kind of person who has trouble deciding between flavours? (Do I sound like an announcer on the Home Shopping Network yet?) Well, now you can enjoy two flavours at once in the new Half n' Half Cupcake Pan.
Okay, for the grand finale I couldn't resist... the yolk's on you! There is a gadget out there called the Yolkr that helps you separate eggs. Newsflash: you can do the same thing with an empty plastic water bottle. You can Google the link; Food & Wine Magazine has a series on how to use regular stuff as funky tools for tasks, which is much more fun I think.
I liked it when I was expected to use my imagination to make something happen instead of waiting for someone else to invent the solution to a challenge. Life is short, but that doesn't mean we need people to live it for us.
Have you got a cool, or a useless gadget in your kitchen? Share a picture of it on my Happy Gourmand Facebook page! Let's see just how many silly things are out there.
Read more Happy Gourmand articles
- 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
- Ready, set - go! May 17
- Farm to table May 10
- Derby Day May 3
- Every season has its force of nature Apr 26
(Click for RSS instructions.)