Go ahead, lick your fingers

We get scolded as children when we dip our fingers into a pot of something to taste it, but who hasn’t wanted to do that?

Did you ever take a swipe at the icing of a cake sitting on the kitchen counter?

Do you prefer to bite an apple or cut it into wedges?

This week, I’m going to take on that topic.

Is it more interesting to taste food without having to worry about poking yourself with the fork, or spilling from a spoon? There is research to say we think so.

Experiments with people eating both ways offer testimonials saying those who ate with their hands had a closer connection, a more emotional one, with their eating experience. They valued the food more and said it tasted better.

People who have been transplanted from cultures eating by hand to eating with cutlery miss the old tradition greatly. It’s not the change in food they dislike, it’s the lack of connection with the meal.

Which is healthier – eating with cutlery or with one’s hands? You might be surprised to find out the answers here.

  • A study published in a medical nutrition journal recently found that people who eat with their hands are slower eaters. Faster eaters, more often those using cutlery, are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes and to have a less healthy digestive system. When you eat with your hands, the slower pace allows for better balance of your blood sugars.
  • Normal flora is transferred from your fingers to your gut when you eat by hand, helping your digestive system work to its full potential.
  • Even the signal to your brain that comes from touching your food gets passed along, preparing your gut to work.
  • Numerous studies have shown to find that eating by hand produces better cues for us to know when we are full, too. People eating by hand are more likely to be at a healthy weight, and less likely to have acid reflux.
  • Overweight people who train themselves to eat by hand reduce their binge eating.

There are restaurants in places such as New York and California that are encouraging people to dig in with their hands. Not just with foods from countries where this custom is common, but with any meal, eating by hand has gained appeal in some places.

This is not a dirty practice, but rather an artful one – washing one’s hands starts off the ritual, then often giving thanks for the meal is next.

Some foods are easy to pick up, but with dishes in sauce or small bits there is usually a sort of flatbread or sticky rice to act as a transport to your mouth.

One restaurateur with a Hawaiian-inspired menu in California said he was surprised to find diners were cleaner when eating by hand. He was going to provide finger bowls, but found that diners didn’t want them.

Even if you aren’t ready to eat by hand in public, there are occasions to enjoy this practice in private (and I don’t mean munching on a muffin or a Big Mac in the car). Fresh fruit and toast for breakfast is a more sensory experience than a bowl of cereal.

If you still want your cereal, how about drinking it? If you like yogurt, have you tried dunking your fruit or toast slices into it?

Why not start the day thinking outside the box?

Kids are good inspiration for this kind of intimate eating, so you can look to them for inspiration. I’m not saying they should swipe the icing on every cake, but maybe if it’s their birthday cake, it could be OK?

Chewing with your mouth open and talking with your mouth full are not good dining etiquette, but I remember my Dad telling me if meat had a bone in it, then it was alright to pick it up to eat it.

You can adapt your table etiquette to include a few new situations.

We have friends who celebrate the New Year with a meal that the whole family eats by hand. They have managed everything from ham and mashed potatoes to spaghetti and say that it has been a favourite memory for their kids as they grew up.

I used to wonder if it was just a fun gimmick to spend some quality time, but after reading all the research for this column, I’m convinced they have a special chronicle of shared meals over the years.

What a wonderful legacy.

Take a bite out of something this week without your cutlery and see if you feel like you’ve taken a bite out of life.


Eating the bounty

I wrote earlier this summer about the embarrassment of riches we experience with local fruit.

All summer long there are fruit stands open to the crowds of tourists and locals alike, looking for the fresh fruit off the trees and veggies from the field.

Tourists often go home with cases of their favourites, and locals get into the flow of eating fresh. Everyone cruises along at a pace… and then comes autumn.

All summer long there are items to eat from the orchards and gardens, but when autumn comes it is officially harvest time. For those of us who are foodies, this is akin to a Christmas buffet.

The only challenge is that one needs to gear up for it, or it can be overwhelming. During the Christmas season, I work out a lot and stretch my tummy with wintery comfort food.

In autumn, I get out the big pots and warm up the dehydrator: 

  • we make jam and chutney,
  • we dry fruit and roast tomatoes
  • we freeze vegetables
  • bake zucchini loaves galore.

We try our best to make the most of it all.

The simple truth is that even with eating as many meals as we can with tomatoes and plums and peppers and pears, we can’t eat it all.

I have come to realize there is value in the harvest that goes back into the ground. I can also recommend sharing food with others (the only challenge there is that they are likely trying to share with you as well).

To assist you with ideas for enjoying all this bounty, I have a few recipes to share this week.

PLUM TORTE – one of my favourite go-to’s in season, and it’s easy to make. It works as a coffee cake, dessert, or even a breakfast/brunch treat.

Preheat oven to 350F.

  • Cut 12 plums in half and remove the pits. (any type will work; an assortment is just fine.) Cream ½ cup butter with ¾ cup sugar. Add 2 eggs and mix until blended well.
  • In a medium bowl, mix 1 cup flour, 1 tsp baking powder, ½ tsp cinnamon and a pinch of salt. (For breakfast, a more hearty, less sweet variation is to use ½ cup buckwheat flour and ½ cup all purpose flour.)
  • Blend dry ingredients into wet just until mixed. Spread into a greased 9-inch pie plate. Arrange plums skin side up on top of dough. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until dough springs back when touched.
  • Squeeze a bit of lemon juice over torte and sprinkle about 1 tbsp cinnamon sugar over it. Let torte cool on a wire rack.

APPLE PHYLLO STRUDEL CUPS – this is a great recipe to make with kids, it’s that simple.

To make 12 phyllo cups:

  • Use 6 sheets phyllo, 6 apples. Preheat oven to 350F.
  • Combine sliced apples with ½ cup raisins or dried cranberries, ½ cup brown sugar, zest and juice of ½ lemon, 1 tsp cinnamon and ½ tsp nutmeg.
  • Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until tender. Lightly grease a muffin pan and lay out phyllo sheets. Cut them into squares slightly larger than the muffin molds.
  • Using 2 sheets at a time, brush the squares with butter or coconut oil (you’ll need about 2 tbsp in total). Take ½ cup Graham wafer crumbs and sprinkle 1 tsp or so in each mold.
  • Place another phyllo square over the first and repeat graham crumbs; then place the last squarePlace the squares in alternating layers, one square, one diamond, so that each muffin mold has at least 2 layers.
  • Then fill molds with apple filling, to top of mold. Bake for about 20-25 minutes, when pastry will be golden and filling sizzling. Let cups cool in muffin tin for about 10 minutes.

Serve warm, with vanilla yogurt, whipped cream or ice cream.

Of course, there are plenty of recipes on the internet, so feel free to search for ideas. I have even found a free app called Yummly that will allow you to search for recipes with ingredients you want to use.

Many of the foods of fall are lovely eaten on their own – who doesn’t love a freshly picked apple or pear, or fresh-cooked corn? But when you need to be eating enough to take care of harvest, you want to vary the flavours a bit.

As a final note, I’ll let you in on my latest discoveries. Potato Latkes can be used for breakfast with fried or poached eggs, for lunch with smoked salmon or for dinner with roast or grilled chicken. If you get tired of potatoes (or maybe you just didn’t plant any) then Corn Pancakes are delicious, too.

If you’re not one for home cooking, or find yourself busy this time of year, another good way to enjoy the harvest is to support local restaurants that feature local ingredients of the season.

I just hope you get a chance to taste all the wonderful bounty.

Cheers, and bon appetit!

Fall fairies

I love fall, but this year it has come a bit early for my liking. It's too soon to be getting up in the dark again and thinking of wearing long pants and sweaters.

It’s chilly in the mornings now — no more bare legs for me on my walk.

When the pears arrive at the market, I know that fall is well underway. I am always reluctant to eat the first one, thinking if I didn’t eat it,  perhaps I could hold off the season.

I guess the best thing is just to grin and bear it, see the light that shines through those autumn clouds. I believe there are fairies that help with just that kind of thing on dreary days.

Have you ever walked through an orchard on a dark day? If there is sun through the clouds, especially in the morning, it has a magical effect.

I walk with my chocolate Labrador, Ella, every morning through the trees, and this time of year the pears look like they have been lit from within.

It’s as if we are wandering through some secret pathway where the fairies have left the lanterns lit to guide us on our way. And if I eat one of those pears, the taste is magical too.

I do not remember the canned pears of my youth tasting anything like the ambrosia I am fortunate enough to sample most mornings in September at Rabbit Hollow.

You might be thinking I have been sampling fermented fruit, telling tales of fairies and magic.

How could I possibly know it is fairies at work, you ask? I know because their playful rings are everywhere of late.

You have at least heard of fairy rings, surely…

Do you have tiny mushrooms growing in your grass? I bet if you do, you will see the circular patterns in how they grow.

They grow that way as a result of the magical chants the fairies sing, dancing in their magic circle at night. It’s not just me who believes such a custom; this story has existed since the Middle Ages and is still told in some places.

Did anyone ever tell you why you should polish an apple when you pick it off a tree? That’s because you need to make sure you don’t eat too much fairy dust. 

It falls off as they fly by, playing their games in the dark. Too much fairy dust can make you giddy.

Some say that fairy rings can be dangerous places, not to be entered by non-magical folk. I have great respect for their work, and their magic. I don’t mean to upset their world, only to enjoy the sparkle.

It is said that the harvest of crops where fairy rings exist will be bountiful, so that must mean there is some good energy there.

I am hoping the fairies can clear the way for a bit more sunshine. I have tomatoes still to ripen, and plums to pick for jam, and tomatillos and peppers that want more time too.

I know the little creatures are dancing through the night, making every moment count, for when the geese fly south and the cold winds blow, they have to fly away too.

Jack Frost owns the winter season, and he only tolerates winter fairies with their skates when he is in town.

So perhaps I should embrace the fairy energy, enjoy my morning pears and frolic in the grass with my dog.

I wonder, what would happen if we danced in a circle?


Sandwich making 101

As everyone heads back to the routines of school and work with the end of summer, I thought it wise to offer some tips on how to make the most of your lunch.

I’m hoping some people who work in sandwich-making places will read this too, as I have had some sad sandwiches in my time and they could have been easily prevented from happening.

Many of us might be down about having to lose the whimsical pace of summer, so let’s work to make sure other parts of our day go smoothly, shall we?

Here are some simple tips for a successful sandwich:

Take your sandwich seriously. If you own or work in a sandwich shop, eat your product and make sure it works. This should be good value food, something you are proud to share with others. If you are making a sandwich just for you, then take a minute to prepare something tasty that you will enjoy, not endure. Even a PB & J deserves a little respect.

If you are taking orders in an establishment that makes sandwiches, please take the order correctly and follow up to ensure it gets made correctly. (Do I sound like a Seinfeld episode?) 

I ordered a vegetarian sandwich on multigrain. My companion ordered turkey on white. I got vegetarian on white, and he got turkey on multigrain. I would have preferred waiting when the person handing over the bag discovered the error rather than eat something I didn’t order.

When including vegetables such as cucumbers and tomatoes in a sandwich, season with salt and pepper. Even when you’re using the freshest ingredients from your own garden, a touch of seasoning won’t hurt, and with the commercial groceries most establishments use, salt and pepper can be life savers in elevating the taste of the finished product. (See also tip 7 for further notes on these ingredients.)

Remember, not all meats and cheeses are created equally. Choose one that fits the tenor of the rest of your sandwich. Tomatoes and lettuce from the garden deserve something more than a Kraft Single or a slice of processed turkey.

For condiments and spreads, distribute evenly on the bread or wrap. If you’re going to count this item as a component that contributes to the flavour of your sandwich, then you want to taste it with every bite. Don’t be chintzy! (If it’s too expensive to spread all over, then don’t use it; otherwise you’re just teasing, and that’s not fair.) 

Build your sandwich properly so it holds together as you eat it. No one wants salami slapping on their chin, or tomatoes and cheese sliding out the back end on the first bite.

  • The bread or bun needs to hold together, not be so soft that a spread or other moist filling makes it go squishy. If it’s toasted, then don’t wimp out – make it crispy! Otherwise it’s just warm bread. Don’t use anything too crusty though, or you won’t be able to bite through the whole sandwich.
  • Tomatoes, cucumber and other slippery ingredients need to be not-too-thick, or they will slide around too much. Try to put other ingredients in between two slippery ones if you have them.
  • Lettuce works best if it’s in bigger pieces, or entirely shredded. Little torn bits don’t give even distribution.
  • Bigger is not always better. You should be able to fit the entire width of the sandwich in your mouth, so you can taste the whole thing.

Pack your sandwich properly. If you’re not eating a sandwich immediately then this is an important element to enjoying it later.

  • Squishy ingredients are best wrapped separately, to be added just before eating.
  • Bread softens when wrapped, especially with added fillings, so consider that when choosing your bread in the sandwich-making phase.
  • Don’t drop an apple on top of it. If you must pack harder things in with your sandwich, think about a plastic container, or pack those items under the sandwich in your lunchbox or bag.
  • Be food safe. If your sandwich has dairy, meat or fish it should stay as close to fridge temperature as possible until you eat it. Use an insulated container and cold packs if need be.

Now, that’s not so hard, is it?

Trust me, you won’t regret taking a moment to appreciate this simple portable meal. Anyone you make a sandwich for will be grateful you took the time and attention to make it shine.

Show your sandwich some respect and you will feel better about yourself all day.

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.  

Kristin 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."


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 does not warrant the contents.

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