A new way to share

Life has changed. So much of what we used to call normal has disappeared, and our routines have been turned upside down.

Like everyone else, my hubby and I have had to adjust our home life and our work life. For us, this means there is no work right now.

We have busied ourselves with some administrative tasks, but that list was all checked off quickly with nothing else going on.

It’s been hard not to be able to share:

  • No guests at the dinner table
  • No chatting at the grocery store
  • No meeting friends for coffee or wine.

For us, there is also no contact because there is no work. That’s hard when your work is all about interacting with people.

My hubby and I share food for a living; we specialize in cultivating those memorable experiences that occur around mealtimes. Sometimes it’s a celebratory dinner party with friends or colleagues in a group, other times there is a bit of team building as a theme.

In the summer months we are often outside for weddings or other family or corporate gatherings. Every event is unique, and each time we get to know the people as things are planned and set up, then executed on the day.

I love the privilege of being a part of people’s special moments. 

While staying at home, I can have a video chat with my mom or my brother, and I can connect with my dear friends who are scattered around the planet.

We even participate in a Virtual Happy Hour on Friday nights with my cousin and a group of friends as a way to feel more social. But I don’t have the chance to share food in the same way.

It’s strange to organize grocery shopping for weeks at a time. Even in the winter, our habit is to pop by every few days and be inspired with what is fresh or what we talked about that week.

Food is our passion, it’s an everyday thing to discuss our meals and think of new ways to prepare an ingredient.

I have a new respect for the old tradition of Meatloaf Monday and all those routine meals that would have been part of post-war meal planning.

In the '90s Time Life Books put out a series of cookbooks based on those days:

  • Monday is meatloaf
  • Tuesday is chicken
  • Wednesday is spaghetti
  • Thursday is pot luck
  • Friday is fish
  • Saturday is cookouts
  • Sunday is family dinners.

We may not need to go back to that much structure, but there is some comfort in knowing some parts of the day are looked after, don’t you think?

I was afraid this week when April came around that I would wake up and discover it wasn’t really April, like some awful combination of Groundhog Day (the movie) and an April Fool’s prank.

March was as long a month as I have ever encountered. 

But March did end, and life goes on. Spring is happening. We are learning to appreciate the little things in life like never before.

I don’t want to sound ridiculously optimistic, but I honestly do believe – I need to believe – that this too shall pass. We will get through this.

The best way I know is to keep sharing in every way we can manage. 

If I can’t have people over for dinner, I will drop off a loaf of sourdough or some cookies at their door. If we can’t meet friends at our favourite local haunt to catch up for coffee or a drink, then we’ll do it online by video.

If I feel like all the news updates are getting on my nerves, I’ll write a blog post to share nostalgic memories of meals gone by or silly bits of trivia that make me smile. 

My plan is that all these acts will help others too, as we share these memories and experiences.

We are social creatures, so not being able to break bread or clink glasses together is tough. But we are an evolving species. Let’s get creative and try new ways to survive.

Just think – it will come in handy once we have relatives on Mars or the moon. 

What can I say? Humour and optimism are my best-honed skills — besides baking.

Cooking with what you have

Now that we are all home and cooking up a storm, there is a surge of people trying new recipes.

There is also a plethora of live cooking videos. I follow a bakery in London that is doing some lovely live demos  and I noticed the comments are either praise for their products or desperate pleas for how to get by when they don’t have an ingredient.

After seeing all these cries for help, I thought I’d offer a list of substitutions you can use in the kitchen. Things that will help in case you couldn’t find something at your local grocery store when you did get out, or if you found a recipe you like but you don’t want to go out again (and you shouldn’t – do stay home.)

I wanted to share virtually since we can’t be together in the kitchen, so I hope you’ll consider this my way of offering a hand.

First of all, how about some conversions? Maybe you have an app on your phone, but in case you don’t, there is a wonderful reference on a site called Cookie Rookie

She offers plenty of details about equivalent amounts in Imperial (cups and teaspoons) and Metric (millilitres and grams). She also includes temperature conversions for your oven (in Europe they use Celsius – if you use that number in Fahrenheit, your dish will take forever to cook).

Pan size equivalents are there, too and they come in handy for baking cakes and loaves.

Secondly, a few tips about terms used that you might not know:

  • Convection or fan oven: this is a setting some ovens have that uses a fan to distribute the heat more evenly. It works especially well when you want to brown and/or crisp what you are cooking. If you don’t have this setting, don’t worry, you can still achieve success. You might just cook a pie or loaf of bread an extra five minutes to brown the top crust if you like.
  • Silicone mat or parchment paper: these are used to help things not stick to your baking pan, and using them means you might not grease a pan (with some cakes, the recipe might still say to butter parchment placed in the bottom of a pan). They are useful to cut down on the fat and make clean up easier. One piece of advice: when cooking bacon, use tin foil and then parchment on a pan, not silicone. Any burned bacon fat is almost impossible to clean off silicone mats.

And now for some ingredient substitutions. This is the meat of the matter, right? First a few chemical recipes to transform everyday items:

  • Buttermilk: for 1 cup buttermilk, add 1 tbsp white vinegar or lemon juice in a measuring cup. Fill to 1 cup with milk and let stand at room temperature for 5 minutes. (FYI this doesn’t really work with non-fat milk)
  • Baking powder: for 1 tsp baking powder, substitute ¼ tsp baking soda + 5/8 tsp cream of tartar
  • Baking soda: ¼ tsp baking soda = 2 tsp baking powder
  • Baking chocolate: for 1 ounce or square of unsweetened baking chocolate, melt together 3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder + 1 tbsp butter.
  • Pumpkin spice: (this one isn’t chemical, just a blend) 1 tsp pumpkin spice (sometimes called “mixed spice” or “pie spice” = ½ tsp ground cinnamon + ¼ tsp ground ginger + 1/8 tsp ground allspice (this is a spice, not a blend) + 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • Self-raising flour: this is flour with baking powder added – to make 1 cup, use 1 cup MINUS 2 tsp all-purpose flour + 1-1/2 tsp baking powder + ½ tsp salt

Run out of something? Or perhaps someone you cook for is allergic? Try these alternatives when baking.

  • Sour cream or thick yogurt (Greek style) can be a substitute for buttermilk, or each other, in equal proportions. 
  • Applesauce or mayo can sub in for eggs; 1 egg = ¼ cup applesauce or 3 tbsp mayonnaise. You can also use 1 tbsp ground flaxseed + 3 tbsp water instead of 1 egg.
  • Corn syrup is the same as golden syrup. You can substitute light molasses in equal proportions. In the same vein, treacle is the same as molasses; or you can use maple syrup instead.
  • Coconut oil can be used in place of butter or margarine, in equal proportions. Be mindful of its form – liquid coconut oil is like melted butter. If your recipe calls for just soft butter, chill your coconut oil to the right consistency.
  • Fresh herbs versus dried? 1 tbsp fresh is the same as ½-1 tsp dried, depending on how flavourful/old your dried stuff might be.
  • Seeds can be substituted for nuts. Pumpkin seeds work great in or on carrot cake instead of walnuts or pecans, tahini (made from sesame) can sometimes work instead of peanut butter. 
  • No yeast for bread? Make a sourdough starter (link: https://amzn.to/3dk488P ) It will take a few days to get going, but you’ll love the taste of what you make.
  • Don’t have the right kind of sugar? For 1 cup brown sugar, you can use 1 cup granulated sugar + 1 tbsp molasses. If you need icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar) you can try blitzing your granulated sugar in the food processor – this works to help it dissolve better, for say a cake frosting.

The real key here is to think positive and be open to new ideas. If you are interacting with others in a virtual group, get their input to broaden your horizons.  You can also follow your nose and your palate.

Maybe a spice blend you have in the cupboard will be just the thing to jazz up that chicken you’re cooking or the dip you’re making for chips with your next Netflix binge. 

We can’t head over to the neighbour’s and ask to borrow a cup of sugar or a dash of cinnamon, but we can make do.

Who knows, maybe after this is all over, we will be more likely to get to know the neighbour? Or perhaps we will just ask Amazon to stock cinnamon. 

Happy cooking at home. 

Life goes on

It’s been a tough week. Every morning we got up wondering what bad news awaited us, and sure enough there was more.

But this afternoon, Ella and I went for our walk in the orchard and the bright sun shining made me feel a bit lighter. I took a deep breath and noticed there were robins, all over. 

I must have counted 30 chirping red-breasted harbingers of spring flitting about between the trees and on the grass. Suddenly my spirits were lifted even further as I remembered, spring is officially here.

I had a feeling all week that time had stopped except for the telling of more bad news. Those happy little singers reminded me time was still moving along, and the bad news wasn’t the whole story.

The good news is that I see all kinds of posts on social media of people baking and cooking and playing with their kids. I’m glad for that and hoping we all keep at least a bit of it up when the world goes back to some kind of normal. 

If you are looking for ideas, there are plenty of free online videos through Facebook, Instagram and even on many websites. Take advantage while you have the time and learn a handy skill.

The ones I have enjoyed include:

I also read a great article on other free cooking videos available right now. (link: http://www.startribune.com/free-online-cooking-lessons-from-culinary-masters-while-you-re-social-distancing/568958782/) 

It is tough not being able to go out. It’s even tougher for the many small businesses across our region and worldwide.

Fellow columnist and person-in-the-know Alison Markin of All She Wrote included some thoughtful and practical options for helping out many small businesses in her Okanagan Taste  piece this week.

I will add arts companies to her list of places you can support. Please do what you can to help your neighbours. (Thanks too, Alison, for sharing this week’s image.)

We will get through this. We will survive it better if we remember the big picture. Please be kind, be thoughtful – to others, and yourself.

Give yourself, and others a break. Stop and take a breath when you are overwhelmed. Ask for help if you’re feeling anxious. Get in touch with friends and family, even more now because you can’t have a hug. 

We need to accept that the world right now is different from what we are used to experiencing. Don’t fight it, embrace it – virtually.

  • Wash your hands
  • Don’t touch your face often.
  • Keep your distance so you don’t spread anything, or receive anything, you don’t want shared. Stay at home as much as you can. 

This is time to love your pets, master those board games, learn new domestic skills and eat at the table.

I look forward to seeing you on the other side of this — soon.

Let's get cooking

What to do at home? Let’s cook!

I had another column written for this week, but given the current situation in the world that puts more of us at home a lot with our families, it seemed appropriate to bring back an old post with some advice from my hubby, Chef Martin.

Chef says:

I gave a cooking class to a bunch of 7-11-year-old kids, last week.

I introduced them to some exotic fruits and vegetables and had them taste these foods raw and cooked. Then, for kids in the class that could see on top of the stove, I also had them learn the basic skills to make the perfect omelette.

Did you know not as many kids hate Brussels sprouts as you think?

I had a blast and I would like to tell all the parents out there: you should do the same during spring break. Any day is great, but during the break usually there is a bit more time to spend together.

Older children can also show younger siblings. Your children need to be introduced to different foods if you want them to be able to fend for themselves once they leave the family nest. 

Start as early as possible and force them to experience the kitchen. Yes, I use the word force because some kids need to be pushed until they do. Force them to touch food, cook food, and of course to taste everything too. 

It is also a great idea to have them read labels of what they eat to realize what’s in it. Many kids have health problems, weight problems, attention problems and energy problems.

You are what you eat, so teach them to eat better and when they leave your house, they will have the skills necessary to give themselves the proper nutrition they need to become our next world leaders. 

If anything, do it for the same reason as I did — I just wanted to be able to have a great meal when I went to visit my daughter living on her own. I started teaching her when she was seven, so she had lots of time to practise.

Yes, it’s a selfish reason, but she eats well and knew how to cook basic meals at age 17. She is 26 and married now, starting her own family. She texts me to ask for recipes and sends me pictures of meals she cooks.

Happy Gourmand Says:

I hope I can help illustrate the Chef’s point, as I can tell you that many of my memories of Spring Break as a child did involve cooking.

We didn’t go away when I was little, so entertaining ourselves in the kitchen was one of the ways we could make our own fun. 

Even when I got older and we did go on a ski holiday, I remember being in a condo that had a kitchen and making fun meals like gourmet pizzas and chilli. It is memories like these that turned me into the foodie I am today.

We need to be reminded on a regular basis that we are connected to the rest of the world, and what we do (or don’t do) makes a difference. One of the most basic ways we can do that is with our food.

It is a product of our planet, and our culture. It is the history and the future all wrapped up in nice little packages. 

Doesn’t that sound a bit like our children? Such precious cargo, we need to remember to take good care of every single one of them.

Children need to know that every moment in their lives have the potential to make a difference so they can take all those moments in and value each one. So should it be with the food they eat.

If children learn to think about enjoying and respecting their food, then it naturally becomes a part of their lives, enriching them not just with nutrients but also with memories.

There are plenty of recipes on my Happy Gourmand blog, and on The Chef Instead website.

Take advantage of this extra time at home and cook together, eat together. 

Even if you don’t have kids, you can always broaden your horizons and try new things. Or perhaps a treasured favourite meal will be just the thing to help you take your mind off things for a while. 

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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