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Happy-Gourmand

Here's to good taste

I know I am going to sound like a nostalgic, old fuddy-duddy this week, but if you will indulge me a little, I think I can bring you around to a pertinent point that requires everyone’s attention, even that of the young fuddy-duddies.

Last week, we sat down for breakfast to enjoy a nice pastry with some fresh strawberries I had bought. I will attest that they were not local. I couldn’t find local ones at the Westside stores and regrettably I didn’t have the time to visit the u-pick places.

However, I did not think I deserved to be punished for buying from a larger store; don’t they usually try to offer the best products within their channels?

The utter lack of taste that I experienced was in total contrast to the plump, intensely red, outer appearance. Was I to expect that was too good to be true? I felt like I was eating a cardboard cut-out of the food I was expecting.

Later in the week, I had the same kind of experience all over again. I kid you not; I really felt picked on by this point.

It was a hot day, and I thought, “What better thing to do than to have a piece of watermelon and spit the seeds off the deck like we did when I was a kid?”

I am sure that was how generations of kids learned to spit. After all, the alternative was having a watermelon grow in your tummy, and who wants that? (My Gramps told me that, and he was never wrong.)

Well, that is all fine and good unless you live in today’s world where watermelons are all seedless (and they often don’t taste like much either).

I figured that the reason both the strawberries and the watermelon didn’t taste like anything was the produce equivalent of a big box store: mass production. But then I wondered, just how do they produce masses of any kind of produce when they have no seeds?

That is when the whole thing started to get a bit scary, as I started to contemplate some kind of scientific lab/greenhouse where an injection or laser perhaps was the secret to starting a new fruit.

It made me think of episodes of The Twilight Zone where the characters thought at first the idea was too far-fetched to ever be possible, but by the end they realized that they had been hoodwinked. They were left helpless in a world filled with far-fetched ideas as part of every-day life.

I know that at this point I have not gotten the attention of any younger folks, since they tend to figure that technology is almost always an advantage and unless a government conspiracy is involved, bigger ideas and projects are better.

I am not against advancing, but I do think we should look before we leap.

You may not be a garden geek like me, using heirloom seeds and loving the wild plants that come up in the garden after the birds have dropped them or the compost has sprouted them. But here is another good reason to support those local farmers that grow food that survives in this environment.

Even if they are not growing organic food, it is certainly sustainable. You may not have a memory of food from days gone by, but that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve food with character.

Down with wimpy watermelons and cardboard strawberries.



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Dog days of summer

The hottest days of summer are often referred to as the dog days because the dog star, Sirius, rises and sets with the sun at this time of year. 

It is the brightest star in the sky, you see, and in ancient times they thought its heat added to that of the sun and that was why it got so hot.

Having a dog is a fantastic experience because dogs are creatures that know how to love unconditionally.

They will treat you with the same enthusiasm whether you had a good day or a bad one, they will be just as excited to see you after 10 minutes away or 10 days, and they can often be wonderful comic relief.

Ella is a chocolate Labrador retriever, my breed (and colour) of choice. She is cute (I tell people she practices looking cute when no one is around) and she has a wonderful smile. 

She loves to be with people, and is curious to know what is going on (if nothing is going on, she likes snoozing).

How can you not love someone with those qualities?

She reminds me every day about the joys of living in the moment. Every time she chases her tail with complete abandon I smile. I can even tell her to try to catch it by going the other way, and she does.

She is a foodie, too. She loves the berries we grow in the yard, and fresh garden cucumbers and carrots and beans.

I suppose I should really say she is a gourmand, as in truth, she is simply motivated by her tummy. She will do anything for food.

Ella is my fourth chocolate Lab. They have all been special friends, and they all taught me a great deal. Being reminded to love life is something we all deserve, and having a resident comedian doesn’t hurt either.

Every day, I get the same happy bouncing response when I announce dinner. It’s been the same stuff for almost 10 years and she is still excited.

When she wants to play with a toy, she will show off her enthusiasm with an extra bit of bounce, landing on the toy will full abandon. (This was a characteristic of her earlier compatriot, the aptly named Tigger.)

And on our daily walk she always amazes me with something, like making me pause with her to hear the birds sing or notice the blossoms (usually on a day I am in a particular hurry).

It’s no surprise to me that research shows people live longer when they have the company of a dog. Perhaps in the dog days of summer, we can all capture that special philosophy dogs have.

Even if you don’t have a dog, I wish you lazy, happy days of summer.



I am Canadian, and happy

Canadians are sometimes perceived by outsiders as almost-like Americans, but living in a colder climate with a funny accent.

What is it to be Canadian?

Thanks, in part, to those beer ads that advertise all the passions Canadians have, the world is better understanding our unique and diverse culture.

All the wonderful pastimes we enjoy and the different foods we eat are certainly parts of what makes up our identity as Canucks, and I for one am proud and happy that we live in such a wonderful place.

I strolled through the “back 40” this morning with our dogs and listened to the resident marmot squeak his alert as he performed his sentry duty from the top of the orchard bins.

Birds of all kinds chirped in the trees and the sun beat down even early in the morning, in true Okanagan fashion.

As I walked between the fruit trees and brushed away the webs from the “Cirque du Soleil” spiders that trapeze from tree to tree, I thought to myself:

“It just doesn’t get any better than this!”

Once home, I got to pick radishes and arugula from the garden for the salad I will serve at our picnic dinner tonight. Martin was picking the first of the sour cherries and already planning a sauce (I could practically hear his creative juices flowing).

The dogs greeted other neighbours passing on their walks; everyone is casual and comfortable as we all know one another on our street.

How fortunate we are that we can relax and enjoy our neighbours, that we live in a place where we can grow food in the yard and that we have the space to look out on a landscape full of promise.

I know, as a nation, we tend to be rather humble and reserved, but Canada Day is the one day if any where it is truly appropriate to wave the flag and be proud.

I always talk of supporting the community and eating local; this weekend you should congratulate yourself for doing those things and celebrate.

You might even want to make a red-and-white dessert, like good old-fashioned strawberry shortcake.

I just happen to have a really good recipe to share.

Happy Canada Day!

STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKES

Biscuits

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 stick butter, chilled
  • 2/3 to 3/4 cup half and half, milk, or cream

Filling

  • 2 lb of fresh strawberries
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups whipping cream

Preparation

Wash your strawberries very well; drain and let dry on a paper towel. Make sure you have a cold bowl for your whipping cream (a few minutes in the fridge or freezer will help it set faster).

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Set rack at center level.

Using a pastry cutter or a food processor on pulse mode, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.  Add the butter to the mixture and keep cutting with your pastry tool – try not to warm up the butter too much, so only mix as much as you need to get it distributed.

Make a well in the center and add the cream or milk (2/3 cup first, then add more if needed), just until dough is moist using your tool. Do not overwork the dough, it’s OK to have pieces of butter showing. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface — fold 4 times but do not over work it, be gentle.

Roll the dough 3/4-inch thick and cut your shapes — be creative. Transfer to non-stick mat and brush on an egg yolk to give it a shiny top. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until risen and golden brown.

Don’t over bake! Let cool before assembling.

While it’s baking, hull and slice the berries. Whip the cream until soft and add ½ cup sugar. Whip in the sugar but be careful not to over whip the cream; you want it firm, but not butter.

Assemble by slicing your cooled biscuit in half,and adding as much strawberries and whipped cream as you want over the bottom.

Top with the other half of the biscuit, some fresh mint and icing sugar.

Voilà!





Are we there yet?

It seems we were all waiting with bated breath for summer to begin this year.

Spring was a slow and poignant thing, and not the luxurious beginning to a decadent season of warmth and richness of blossoms and bounty.

Summer did arrive right on time in the Okanagan, according to the calendar, but when you live in paradise, just meeting the status quo is in the “not quite satisfactory” column.

But if we are to have only the usual Canadian allotment for summer (July and August, with the hope for a pleasant September), then we certainly need to lose our sense of reticence that this might be as good as it gets, don’t you think?

Like those kids that keep asking in anticipation of the destination, we keep talking of the weather as if we can will it to improve. I say it’s time we showed more bravado and said, “Here goes nothing!”

I will be gardening in my gum boots this weekend if that is what it takes. I have had the biscuit with this idea of sitting inside snivelling, like Mother Nature is some schoolyard bully who has us all running scared.

School is out for summer, Ms. Nature, and you don’t scare me!

The local garden stores may need to stock up on propane heaters instead of fans this year. We might want to look up some recipes for coffee cocktails to serve later on instead of making that extra pitcher of sangria.

But don’t despair, folks! We can still show the rest of the world that all is not lost in the erstwhile sunny Okanagan.

I say, be extravagant. Damn the torpedoes! If it takes having a beach party with fleece blankets and grappling hooks, then so be it. (We could have used those this past week at a Girl Guide beach party in that wind storm.)

Call your neighbours or friends or family and have a party to celebrate… what are we celebrating?

The fact that it’s not winter! (OK, so call me a “glass half full” kind of gal – it is more fun that way, wouldn’t you say so?)

If you are thinking it’s not worth taking the boat out on the lake because it’s more cloudy than sunny, how about making a game of chasing the sunny spots? It worked really well for us last weekend.

I had grand plans to be ahead of the game with my garden this year – tomatoes in mid July, I said to Martin. Oh, well. I’m getting to like the green tomato chutney we make, so a short season isn’t the end of the world.

And the fellow I bought veggies from at the farmers’ market last Saturday said he hadn’t watered anything since he planted it this spring. How green is that?

So, here’s to an enjoyable summer, however long or short it may be. I do hope you get to make the most of it, in whatever way suits you.

Garden carrots with the dirt still on, homemade burgers on the grill, fresh lemonade from a budding neighbourhood entrepreneur… the tastes of this season are meant to be savoured.

After all, the days do get shorter from here on in.



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

 



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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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