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Happy-Gourmand

A cup of Joe

I was at the bulk store getting flavoured coffee beans for a friend this week and I used the grinder as she doesn’t have one.

As I stood there listening to the whir of the machine, I was transported back to my childhood and Saturday morning trips to the grocery store.

I used to love grinding the coffee for my mom, making sure to pull the “cleaning lever” to get every last bit of coffee in the bag.

It was a real trick to learn how to close those fold-over bags, too. A rite of passage, you might say, just like drinking the stuff.

Those childhood memories go back way before I drank coffee, but I remember the importance of it. My parents didn’t have an automatic coffee maker; my dad swore by his “poikie,” an Icelandic tradition.

It was a sort of sock that hung from skewers in the glass carafe with the grounds in it. He always said it made the best coffee.

This contraption was the forerunner to today’s artisanal pour-over coffee, buy my mom always thought it suspicious to use an old sock for making coffee. She did say it was good coffee though, and she seemed to enjoy the quiet pause she got while making it.

My dad had his coffee with breakfast, but my mom was at home when we were little. Needless to say, her coffee was often cold before she drank it all, what with loads of laundry, cleaning, cooking and other household work.

She drank it though and seemed to enjoy it even at room temperature. Those were the days before travel mugs and Keurig pods.

I didn’t think much of coffee until I travelled to Europe after high school. Then, I learned how cool it was.

In France, while on a Contiki tour, my new best friend and I took it as a challenge to find the most expensive coffee on an evening out in the Left Bank.

We sipped our café au lait with cool satisfaction as we enjoyed watching the world go by from our prime location on the terrace. (That gal is still a dear friend and we still treat ourselves at decadent cafés every time we see each other.)

I have commented often on the culture surrounding certain foods and coffee is one of the most historic examples. What I find most interesting though is how a simple hot beverage can become such an icon even when there is no pomp and ceremony to the occasion.

Look at Tim Hortons. Their advertising campaigns illustrate my point perfectly - a cup of Timmy’s coffee is what makes the hockey practice or fishing trip or other simple activity a special moment.

How did that happen?

Perhaps the cachet of coffee is its combination of simplicity and complicated ritual all wrapped into one cup. It has become a ubiquitous beverage in our lives sometimes through necessity than choice.

Did you know that the origin of the “cup of Joe” expression comes from the days of the First World War, and it was originally meant as an insult?

Josephus Daniels was secretary of the Navy from 1913-1921. He wanted to raise the moral standards of the forces, so he implemented new rules that included increasing chaplains and banning all alcohol on bases.

As an alternative, naval stewards began ordering more coffee as a replacement. The phrase “having a cup of Joe” was a shortening of the original disparaging comment by many of the troops: “having a cup of Joseph Daniels.”

Drinking coffee can be comforting, contemplative or energizing – sometimes it’s all of those. The bitter taste is certainly more of an attraction to adults, and perhaps that is especially fitting when one considers the responsibility associated with having a cup.

Whether it’s taking in the simple joy of a fishing trip or hockey practice or participating in the more complicated philosophical discussions that occur in coffee houses around the globe, there is a solemn nature to these moments.

So, the next time you grab your “double-double” or your “extra-hot half-caf soy latte,” stand tall and breathe deep.

You are representing the grown-ups, those people that deserve a jolt (and maybe a bit of foam and a caramel swirl) because they are running the world.

It’s busy, important work and it deserves a reward.





A recipe for friendship

I was inspired this week by two social media posts that were definite foodie fodder… they were a sort of edible chain letter and they made me think about the traditions of food with friendship.

These posts were ones I bet you have seen. The first one was for the infamous Neiman Marcus cookie: as the story goes a simple oatmeal chocolate chip cookie rose to fame because a woman who ordered the recipe for it after tasting it at a Neiman Marcus café was charged $250.

As revenge, she sent the recipe to all of her friends. I think this was one of the first e-mails I received on my first Apple computer.

The Neiman Marcus cookie story has been around for many years and when I looked into it as an urban legend, I discovered variations of it have been floating around for about 50 years, using different recipes and different companies.

(There was one published in a cookbook in the 1950s that told of someone being charged the exorbitant fee of $25 for a fudge cake recipe.)

The attraction of course, is that we get to support the maligned individual and manage to “stick it to the man” at the same time.

Way back when, I felt privileged that the person chose me as one of the friends who would receive this prized recipe. I became part of an inner circle, and then I could share the wealth with other friends too.

It’s amazing that food can be a symbol of such status, even just with a recipe.

The other post I saw was about a friendship cake. This too, is a long legend. It is a yeast bread recipe that takes 10 days to make, and then a cake is to be made with one of the four cups of the bread dough.

You keep one cup aside to retain some of the “starter” and then pass along a cup to two friends, with the recipe for the cake.

There are many variations on the history of friendship cakes, but the one I liked the most was in the oft-used name of Amish Friendship Bread (same recipe).

An elder and authority on Amish history was asked about the origin of this recipe and she replied that the tradition was simply to share bread or sourdough starter with those less fortunate or sick.

It seems the idea of passing it to a friend simply to honour the friendship was just an extension of that gesture.

I know that many people in this day and age don’t have time 10 days in a row to make a sourdough starter. Many people follow gluten-free diets and have other food allergies, so they likely they wouldn’t be able to enjoy the cake. But that doesn’t mean we can’t share.

The fact that we take the time to send the recipe says something, doesn’t it? People used to send “care packages” of food by snail mail, but you can’t send food through the internet.

I guess this is just the latest iteration of us trying to still be friends. You can live without friends, but who would want to?

One of my favourite childhood authors said it best:

"Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art... It has no survival value; rather is one of those things that give value to survival." —  C. S. Lewis

Whether you use one of these edible chain letters or you just drop by with a bit of something, I think the gesture of sharing something homemade does retain a certain special quality.

If you’d like to have a recipe that’s easy to make and share, my Chocolate Zucchini Cake is a good one.

Friendship is about sharing; it is a necessary ingredient in the recipe of life.



Food for the ages

We went to see Once Upon a Time in Hollywood this week. It’s a period piece, set in Los Angeles in 1969.

I am a child of that age, and so the many iconic references in the movie resonated with me, like the product packages on the kitchen counters of the movie’s characters.

Something as mundane as a box of Kraft Dinner or Wheaties cereal might seem like a very minor detail, but things like that are anchors for an age just as the songs on the radio are significant.

Having those details authenticates the scenes, because they were in almost every household of the time.

I bet you have foods that you remember from your childhood.

Do you remember Wheaties, and all the champions on the box? I do have memories of the Wheaties commercials and all the famous athletes who told us they had their Wheaties when they worked to be the best.

In our house, Grape Nuts and Muffets Shredded Wheat were the favourite stand-bys.

My Dad used to say that he and his sister had to put the cardboard that came between the layers of Muffets in their shoes to keep from getting cold in Winnipeg winters.

I always thought that was like saying he had to walk to school in minus 40-degree weather all winter. It was just to show me that such experiences built character, made us stronger.

Ironically, many of the products of that age were also supposed to build character.

Kraft Dinner was a fast and inexpensive meal that claimed it was also wholesome. We didn’t have it often, but it was the go-to meal when my parents were going to be late and my brother and I had to make dinner for ourselves.

Although Wheaties is still around, Grape Nuts and Muffets are no longer sold in Canada (you can still find them in the United States). Kraft Dinner is still an iconic food though, generations later; it is consumed even more often in Canada than in the U.S.

Did you know it’s often listed as an example of typical Canadian food by immigrants when they are surveyed?

The character in the movie – Brad Pitt – ate his KD out of the pot, not even adding milk but just the cheese powder. We used to kick ours up a notch with added veggies and a bit of grated cheese stirred into the sauce.

Two typical examples of how this one little blue box managed to be both a single guy’s simple meal and a balanced dinner for the kids. No wonder they chose it to be featured in a movie.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was an interpretation of a time in history. It created characters that were supposed to be iconic, at least on the screen. But the iconic products it used to showcase that time were real. They were much of what made the characters relatable.

Isn’t it funny how food can be an equalizer? Even in Hollywood, they eat Kraft Dinner and Wheaties. Even in a movie, they eat real food.

Sometimes it might be the martinis and caviar of James Bond’s world and most of us only imagine what that would be like around our own tables.

When it’s something like Kraft Dinner, we can identify with the character like they were someone we know, someone we can understand, at least in that moment.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to suggest that Quentin Tarantino’s portrayal of the world is a normal one.

It’s just that his talent for showing us an authentic normal world is as good as his passion for making a parody of gratuitous violence. He knows how to set a scene, and that can make for staying power.

Classic movie scenes, like classic food, stick with us as representations of our lives.





Lazy days of summer

Are you fully immersed in summer?

In case you’re not sure what that entails, it’s dinners on the deck and drinks on the lawn and hanging out in the sun.

They call them lazy days of summer, don’t they?

I enjoy time outside in my garden too, putzing away at picking veggies, weeding to keep things tidy and generally being at one with Nature. Sometimes, it can be a bit much though…

I don’t have many lazy days outdoors, but then that is my own fault.

 My most daunting task at Rabbit Hollow is to pull weeds – it seems every year we have a new species that wishes to be counted in the general population.

I was perhaps over-exuberant when we had a friendly neighbour turn over a section of the front yard for veggies, as it is a patch twice the size of our kitchen and with spring rain the weeds take firm hold.

I spend the rest of the summer taking out my frustrations by pulling them out.

My sense of accomplishment is fulfilled with my rows of my wacky vegetables. This year, I have purple carrots, bull’s blood beets, rebel radishes and arugula all reaching for the sun; soon we will be inundated with the bounty of it all.

Then. it’s about planning fresh menus and pickling what is left over so we can enjoy it through the winter.

Sometimes, I long for the days when they all this fun didn’t wear me out so much. After all, the garden is only the first item on my full page to-do list.

The next item is mowing the lawn. We have upgraded from the old electric mower that could hardly endure our robust combination of grass and weeds, but I still brave the ridicule of the neighbour across the road who has the deluxe riding mower complete with cup holders.

Once I have the mowing completed, I haul out the weed whacker and wave it around the perimeter, fighting off the crab grass and other tall interlopers.

As the freshly cut bits of grass stick to my legs and I smell that aroma of dirt and grass, my aching muscles relax a bit as memories came flooding back to me of summers doing the garden chores.

Ah, the peace of the days when having green feet and a tank top tan were the worst of your worries.

If I’m especially lucky, my wistful experience will reach its pinnacle when I hear that familiar sound of bygone days. The first time it happened I thought perhaps it was my imagination but no, sure enough a moment later the ice cream truck came toddling down the road with its carnival music blaring for all to hear. 

That is a sign to take a break and simply enjoy the moment, if ever there was one.

There is something pastoral about a quiet day in the sun with Mother Nature and her creatures. I like to sit on the grass and slurp my popsicle, soaking it all in.

It does my soul good to Ella snooze in the just-mowed grass under the cherry tree, and to hear the birds chirp as they chase each other over the lilacs.

I am very grateful that we have a little corner all our own, and I much prefer those noises to the hustle and bustle of the city.

For you city slickers, maybe a pot on the patio is enough to fulfil your gardening curiosity, and a visit to the farmers’ market in support of local growers is more your kind of thing.

Ultimately, I think the secret lies in finding your own peace, a place where the world stops still for you so that you can just breathe it in and smile.



More Happy Gourmand articles

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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

 



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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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