Beware fake (food) news

I read an article in a food magazine recently about an indigenous tribe in South America that only eats fish with chiles because they believe it is toxic without the cleansing properties of said chiles.

That made me think of other food myths I’ve encountered over the years. Have you ever been duped by one of these?

There are plenty of old adages that have a basis in fact. Sadly, they do not present any real advantages.

  • An apple a day keeps the doctor away” is logical when you think of healthy foods keeping your body strong. But studies show eating apples regularly does not reduce your chances of getting sick.
  • “Feed a cold, starve a fever” comes from the idea of centuries ago that a cold came from a drop in your body’s temperature and eating would raise it again. Conversely, if you already had a fever you shouldn’t be doing anything to make it worse – including eating. Neither is true.
  • “Coca-Cola can rot your teeth, just like it dissolves the penny in a glass (or nail or other examples).”The acids in Coke will indeed dissolve things over time, just as the acid in other things will do the same. Orange juice has more acid than Coke. Unless you walk around for days with a mouthful of Coke, your teeth are safe.

Cultural myths are even more pervasive. I remember hearing that chewing gum takes seven years to digest, a rather unpleasant thought. When I was a kid, gum chewing was a popular pastime.

Although the gum base in most chewing gum is indigestible in our system, it simply passes through intact. I think this myth was made popular by parents trying to deter us from swallowing our gum.

You may also have heard of another variation… The same good intention exists with that tale about potatoes growing out of your ears if you didn’t wash behind them.

When I first started working in the restaurant industry, I was told the rule of when one should eat shellfish – only in months with an R in their name.

This stemmed from the first days of red tides and eating oysters in spawning season, but nowadays with more monitoring of red tides and controlled farmed seafoods these traditions no longer apply.

As our food production has evolved, many of our guidelines have evolved as well.

One myth that I thoroughly enjoy is of Scottish origin. It’s about haggis, a traditional dish made of sheep’s “pluck” (organ meat) minced with oats and spices and cooked in a sheep’s stomach, or in some cases today an artificial casing.

Here’s the story of the “wild haggis” myth, as told by a local:

“Haggis, Scotland’s national dish, is actually a small animal that lives on hillsides in the Scottish Highlands. According to the myth, the wild haggis has two legs of uneven length, allowing the haggis to easily run around the hillside and retain balance. I had a summer job at university working in a kilt shop in Edinburgh. The shop was packed with tourists through the summer months due to the Edinburgh Festival.

We stocked all kinds of souvenirs, including stuffed ‘wild haggis’ toys for children and other merchandise featuring the wild haggis. My colleagues and I would occasionally relay the myth to customers, some of whom left the store still unaware of the truth.” 

This week’s column does offer a word to the wise: don’t believe everything you see and read on the internet, even for something as simple as food.

Food myths today are another example of fake news.

If we take the stories in good fun and check our sources of information just like we check our sources of food products, then I believe that can be due diligence.

Having a stuffed wild haggis on a shelf can’t do any harm, and helping kids learn the value of staying clean and not swallowing gum is part of being a role model, as long as they know the truth and not just the story.

Share some soul food

Some things really do get better with age, and I have to say that an old friendship is my favourite of them all.

There is nothing better than sharing time, or better yet food and drink, with old friends as you catch up and soak in the comfort that comes from being with someone who knows you.

A visit to Vancouver is giving me a chance to catch up with a faraway friend and that made me think of the many times we’ve shared across a table. So, this week I’m hoping that might inspire you to do the same across a dinner table or picnic blanket with a friend of yours.

A very dear girlfriend in Calgary and I do much of our best catching up over steaming cups of homemade latte. She has the best little cappuccino machine in the world and so the deal is, when I visit her, she makes the coffees and I clean the machine.

It was the best way I could think of to thank her for putting me up time and again over the years, and it has become a symbol of our symbiotic relationship.

Sometimes we have bagels or a bowl of cereal with the coffee, but just having my hands around the cup and being able to share a story or two is enough to recharge my soul.

Coffee is a staple of another longstanding family friend. I don’t want to call him an “old friend,” but this guy has known me since I was a kid, and as a result there are plenty of good memories.

When I was a kid, his telephone greeting when I answered was, “So, how’s your sex life?” I was 10 years old; I didn’t even know what a sex life was.

David was one of those adults that always treated me like a regular person, even though he still calls me “kid.”

Ever since then, when I hear David’s voice on the phone, it makes me smile. He is a part of my extended family – the part that extends to those non-blood relations that are as natural as your immediate family.

I am comfortable having last-minute dinner guests because I grew up with people like David, who might just drop by and was only too welcome to stay. A simple dinner like Roast Chicken does the trick nicely.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a dog friend. If you have a dog, you know what I mean.

If you are not a dog person you will just have to trust me when I say that four-legged people can provide a special connection for two-legged ones in a magical way.

Such is the case with John and I, for without his Irish terrier, Riley, wandering across the field one day to say hi to my chocolate Lab, Satchmo, we would never have met and what a shame that would be.

I spent many a morning at Kits Point sharing quality time with a man I recognized more from his yellow slicker and his Irish terrier than for his reputable standing in the community.

Our four-legged friends of those days are only with us in spirit now, but those shared memories will last more than a lifetime.

I would have to say that a good dog biscuit would be the food I think of here… many a treat was left on the running board of my old 4Runner that had a special place in Mo’s heart as well as her tummy.

But I have also raised many a glass of good red wine in honour of such a friendship. Cheers to you, John, and to the memories of all those mornings on the Point.

Food is what brought my hubby and I together, and it is something you know from us is certainly a passion in our lives. What fuels that passion is being able to share it with loved ones.

I hope you have the chance to catch up with an old friend or two sometime soon; the ambience of having those around you who love you with all your foibles is the best recipe for comfort food that I know.

Decorate your plate

It is said that we eat with our eyes. This time of year, as the gardens begin to explode with colour from plants of all kinds it’s easy to be inspired.

I think the marketing team that came up with the healthy eating slogan “Eat a rainbow” must have done it in early summer. But a beautiful plate of food isn’t just about fresh garden produce.

This week, I want to offer some ideas to convert any meal into a good-looking one.

I’m not talking about recipes to prepare here. Rather, I’m presenting some accents to up your game, kick things up a notch when you present your plate – even if it’s for you, and no one else.

Regardless of what you eat, making it look good can add to your enjoyment of it. And those garnishes can even offer added advantages.

Did you know that parsley is good for freshening your breath? It is highly nutritious, full of vitamins A, K and C, as well as magnesium, calcium, iron and potassium.

Some of the essential oils it contains have antibacterial properties as well. How’s that for a powerful boost on your plate? And you thought it was just there as an afterthought.

Include a sprig you can eat, or chop it and sprinkle it on salads, potatoes, fish or soup and feel yourself getting stronger.

Sage is another herb that has powerful properties. It has been in use since the Middle Ages; it was one of the herbs used to help prevent the plague.

Burning sage releases its essential oils, which can neutralize some airborne bacteria. Its clean scent is often welcome relief in times of sickness or trouble, and it has been proven to help with brain function and memory.

Rubbing sage leaves and adding them over potatoes or chicken add an extra layer of flavour as well as colour to your plate.

Rosemary has been a culinary herb since Ancient Roman times. It too has a powerful essential oil, one which has long been thought to help with memory, and some say even fidelity and clearing of the mind.

More recently, it has been proven useful for reducing nasal congestion and suppressing some allergies.

It makes a lovely garnish with barbecue dishes — you can even use a rosemary branch as a brush to put oil or sauce on your grilled items near the end of cooking.

Thyme is in the same family as sage and rosemary, and I can’t help but mention it, if for no other reason than for the sake of Simon and Garfunkel.

Thyme is a powerful herb with antibacterial properties that make it excellent for helping with sore throats, healing wounds, and aiding digestion. Its essential compounds are beneficial to almost every part of your body; it’s no wonder this herb was given to soldiers in ancient times heading into battle.

Its tender branches make a delicate garnish or chopped it can be added to many dishes. It is a close friend to mushrooms, bringing out a pleasantly sweet aroma and adding to their earthiness in an elegant way.

I love edible flowers as well as herbs on my plates, and I’ve been growing many in my garden. Many of them are very bee-friendly, so you can feel good knowing you’re supporting the outdoor community if you decide to throw some seeds in a pot.

Here are my favourite blossoms to use:

  • Borage flowers – they have a slight cucumber taste if you eat them on their own, and their blue colour is striking on the plate
  • Marigolds – these yellow to orange petals have a more earthy taste, sometimes bitter but not in an unpleasant way. These flowers also help keep the bugs away from neighbouring plants, so they really do earn their keep.
  • Lavender – not only on the plate but around the house this is a lovely plant to enjoy. A sprig is beautiful on a plate, but it’s safe to eat the buds if you want to include them in a dish. You can also strain them out of a sauce or custard and include a sprig for garnish later.

Not all flowers are edible — please don’t guess, as some are toxic. When using edible flowers, only use the petals, as the full flower contains bitter, tough parts.

Also be sure they have not been sprayed with any chemicals. I would recommend growing your own using heirloom seeds or organic plants for best results.

There are spices you can sprinkle to add colour and pizzazz to your meal as well; be creative and use your kitchen palate to its full potential.

Your eyes will thank you; your tummy will thank you, and I do believe your soul will thank you as you soak in all the benefits of this added layer to your eating experience.

Bon Appetit!

The sweet and tart of life

We have passed the unofficial start of Canadian summer, and yet things have not really warmed up yet.

Gardens are lanky and lush green, and lawns are hard to keep mowed with spring rains. Everyone is still wearing jackets, and only the die-hards deep in denial are sporting their flip flops – who wants cold toes?

On days when the skies are grey and the wind –—or even rain — blows cold, I work to find my own sunshine.

My garden is overgrown, which for the most part means more weeding and less bounty. However, there are some items I can still count on to produce. Rhubarb is one of the plants that is grateful for cooler temperatures.

The strawberries are also plump and juicy in my boxes out back.

My grandfather used to say, “Can’t be wasting” (usually as he encouraged me to have that extra serving). So, in that spirit, I thought it only fitting to make a Rhubarb and Strawberry Pie.

It was my duty as a gardener not to waste the harvest. Not to mention it might help compensate for rainy days.

I used the good old-fashioned pastry recipe on the bottom of the Tenderflake lard box, because I wanted this to be a comfort dish. This classic recipe reliably turns out flaky and golden brown.

The beauty of this pie is that even a store-bought pie crust that you thaw and bake will still show well with the taste of freshly cooked fruit. If you’re not a fan of making pastry, you’re not excused from giving it a try.

Having married a chef, I succumb to professional criticism of all my recipes. My hubby is friendly about his comments, but he is not shy to tell me when I could improve (“the filling would be thicker if you made sure it boiled”, or “the centre doesn’t cook very well when you put a large decoration on it”).

I submit every dish for his consideration. He always has a comment, and when he says that something tastes very good, he means it. When he goes back for another piece, I know I have a real success.

A few days later the pie is gone.

The weather hasn’t warmed up and today it even rained big drops with a few cracks of thunder. But somehow, I feel a bit better.

That pie really was like a bit of sunshine, tasting the tart rhubarb and the sweet strawberries with a nice scoop of vanilla ice cream. Scoring a star rating with the chef didn’t hurt either. 

Perhaps my gardening is just a way of transferring my feelings – making pie takes away the gloom of grey days, pulling weeds is a release for my frustrations, and sharing the bounty of our harvest makes me smile even more than those with whom we share.

I am OK with my therapy. It helps me balance the sweet and tart of life, just like in my pie.

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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