April Fool's Day is a fun time for foolish food

Foolish food

Today is April Fool’s Day, so I thought I would use it as inspiration to be a bit goofy.

Perhaps that is in part due to spring weather being so topsy-turvy – snow in the morning and warm sun in the afternoon.

I don’t know about you, but I feel a little bit of whimsy is the best way to weather the storm. So, forgive the lack of nutritional value in this week’s listings and take pleasure in the fact that you now have water cooler fodder for the week to come.

Did you know that a real seasonal spring food is Peeps? If you have never heard of Peeps, you may still be able to indulge if you check out the local grocery and confectionary stores. Many connoisseurs even prefer their Peeps a few days old.

You might think I am trying an early April Fool’s prank here, but honestly, this is no joke. (The company’s founder, Sam Born, also invented the Born Sucker machine which revolutionized the lollipop industry but that is another story.)

Peeps are a traditional sweet made by a third-generation family-owned company called Just Born, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The company is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Peeps are just one of their confections, others include Mike and Ike candies and Hot Tamales.

Most commonly in the form of baby chicks, Peeps are now made in many shapes and colours. In the beginning, they were made by hand, taking 27 hours to produce. Bob Born, Sam’s son, came up with a mechanized process that reduced the time to only 6 minutes. He was known as “the father of Peeps”.

Peeps have a very loyal following, with some people taking their appreciation to quite imaginative heights. This is not just about consumption.

There are Peep pastimes such as Peep Jousts (arm your Peep with a toothpick under his wing for a lance, then put him in the microwave with another combatant and after placing your wagers on the winner, push the ON button. The winner is the one that expands enough to engulf his unwitting enemy.)

There is Peep art – patterns of the charming little fellows glued on canvas that sell for hundreds of dollars. With the array of colours and shapes available there are numerous permutations in design.

Simple indulgence in Peeps is ample goofiness however, and you needn’t feel too bad eating them – they are only 32 calories each. And there is no need to worry—350 million of them are made each year, so they are certainly not endangered.

If you are more of a purist, you could just stick to regular marshmallows as a treat. Did you know they have been around for 200 years and that originally the root of the marshmallow plant was what made them sticky and gooey?

Marshmallow root was also used to soothe sore throats. I don’t know if you could attest to a marshmallow doing that, but it arguably does make you feel better when you eat one.

If you feel like attempting a batch of marshmallow from scratch, I can verify that this link to a great recipe has produced smiles at our house. All you need is ingredients and a powerful mixer.

If you like your marshmallow with a bit of chocolate, here is another option. You could cut these into bird shapes and make your own Peeps variation, if you like. This recipe is big enough to share, even if you’re a gourmand like me.

Chocolate-Marshmallow Brownies

3/4 cup Callebaut dark chocolate (or other quality chocolate)
1 cup unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups white sugar
5 large eggs

Zest of 1 full orange, grated on a “microplane” using a fine grater) (optional, but very tasty)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 cups small Callebaut chocolate chunks
2 cups miniature marshmallows

Heat chocolate and butter in a pan slowly while stirring until melted. (This can also be done in a microwave at low heat. Be careful it does not burn.) Stir in sugar until it melts. Cool the mixture 10 to 15 minutes.

Add eggs and stir. Add flour, salt, orange zest if using, and vanilla. Stir well. Add chocolate chunk and marshmallows and stir until mixed.

Pour into your greased 13 by 9-inch pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool for at least 30 minutes so as not to burn the roof of your mouth when sampling.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Learning about food early is important for us all

Kids and food

My husband has been a chef his whole career.

He loves to cook and he loves to teach people about cooking. One of his first students was his daughter and one of the best times for teaching her in the kitchen was during school breaks. She started learning by tasting foods and watching what to do.

During a school break there is usually a bit more time to spend together as a family, but any time is great for kids to help in the kitchen. There are plenty of tasks even before they get to chopping or stirring something on the stove. Older children can also show younger siblings what to do and how to do it.

Here are a few suggestions from Chef Martin on getting your kids interested in the kitchen:

• Have them taste vegetables raw and cooked. They might prefer the raw version, and then you save yourself some cooking time.

• Quiz them about simple tasks so they remember them. My stepdaughter learned how to cook rice this way: “How do you cook rice?” was the question she was asked on the way home from school for one month.

• Have them participate in grocery shopping, so they learn what ingredients are. Older kids can learn about pricing too.

It is also a great idea to have them read labels of what they eat to realize what’s in it. You are what you eat, right? If we teach them to understand how to eat healthy, they will live a better life, as well as be self-sufficient.

I can tell you many of my memories of spring break as a child involved cooking. We, as a family) didn’t go away when I was little, so my brother and I learned how to entertain ourselves in the kitchen to add to our own fun. We started making rice Krispie squares and never looked back.

When I was older and we went on ski holidays, I remember being in the condo’s kitchen making fun meals like build-your-own pizza and chilli. It’s memories like that that turned me into the foodie I am today.

It’s good 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.

Food 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 bit of it.

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

We have to eat, so why not enjoy the process? If children (and the rest of us, too) learn to think about enjoying and respecting food, then it naturally becomes a part of life and enriches us not just with nutrients, but also with memories.

Please try to spend some extra time with your food this week or maybe try a new food that you see at the grocery store. If you don’t have kids to challenge you, see if you can think like a kid and make your food fun.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Big brand shopping and local loyalty

Mainstream aftertaste

Branding has become evident in almost everything we do today.

Many big brands work to convey an image that seems more intimate than corporate. But do we serve our community when we support those big brands over the local alternative? This week, I draw attention to the consequences of doing that.

A poster child of this phenomenon are Starbucks Coffee houses. At first, they were the star of the Pacific Northwest. They created a cult around coffee that although it was mainstream, had very much a “club” sort of feel. As a loyal customer, you belonged.

In the beginning, Starbucks had some unique qualities too – like the music it played. It used the power of a bigger organization to develop its own label and produced CDs that had a unique feel. Born was an underground trend that created another buzz besides the coffee.

However, as the popularity increased and the Starbucks locations expanded to almost every corner, the music like everything else became more mainstream and less unique.

That seems to be where the big box concept of pleasing everyone all the time begins. Or, should we call it, catering to the lowest common denominator?

There are big box concepts now in many industries. To some degree, they allow the little independent places to exist just by being so mundane. Of course they offer similar goods and services as many small businesses at lower prices. Often, that is what convinces us to switch.

It used to be that when the local place was replaced by Starbucks, a new independent joint would spring up in its place around the corner. It was like the forces of Nature that bring the Monarch butterflies back from Mexico every summer. However, these days even the forces of Nature have changed their habits.

It doesn’t help to pine for the old coffee shop that is no longer. But we can look for the new one that has opened, and then support their efforts, appreciating that it costs them more to create a niche and be different.

I know we won’t stop using corporate companies. It might make sense to buy your toilet paper at a big box store. Stopping at Timmie’s or Starbucks doesn’t make you a bad person. We just need to be aware of what happens when we forget about those little guys entirely.

In our world, we are so used to having comforts and convenience. Perhaps that is why we want the consistency that can be easy for chains and corporate culture to provide. Is that why we often slide into the comfort zone of their drive-throughs or online stores? Is that more important than having different options or local flavour?

I just want us all to remember, it takes people who want some variety in life, and who are proud to support the community for the little guys to survive. Then there will still be little corner coffee shops who play unheard-of music and independent retailers that have local art on the walls or food on the shelves.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Strange names for foods we eat

You're eating what?

When we are little, we often end up pronouncing foods in a funny way.

My younger brother used to love “pas-getti and meatballs”. Even adults can make funny names for food. My dad called Kraft Singles “plastic cheese”, perhaps because of the individual wrappers, or maybe more because of the very processed taste they had. This kind of stuff is just the tip of the iceberg.

In many languages there are dishes that have names that seem odd, sound funny or are just plain weird. I mean really, when you think about eating hot dogs, doesn’t that sound strange? There is no firm evidence to confirm the geographic origin of the sausages we eat in those long buns. There was also never any proof that they contained anything besides pork or beef.

Hot dog sausages could have come from Vienna (the meaning of wiener) or Frankfurt (you guessed it – a frankfurter) or they could be related to many other variations made in that part of the world. It is likely German immigrants to North America were the inspiring force behind this quintessential American food.

The idea of using animal names in dishes isn’t uniquely American. In the U.K. there are a few variations of a dish that uses small wild animals in its name. But none of them contain the meat of those animals—or of any animal.

“Welsh Rabbit” never had rabbit meat, not even in its inception in the 18th Century. Many people say the adaptation of the name to “Rarebit” was to avoid this confusion. It is simply a mixture of cheese with a bit of beer and maybe an egg to make a sauce, then spread over toast and baked to melt the cheese.

“Scotch Woodcock” is a similar affair. It has no poultry at all, least of all the not-so-common woodcock. This dish is scrambled eggs over toast with anchovies (recipe link: https://www.food.com/recipe/victorian-scotch-woodcock-savoury-scrambled-eggs-228846). Perhaps the name comes from fans liking the taste of it so much. It is said woodcock is a delicious game bird to eat.

My favourite funny-sounding dish has to be “bubble and squeak,” or so the English call it. The Scottish version is called “rumbledethumps” and the Irish one is “colcannon.” All of them have their own twist of course, as ingredients are regional and tastes vary from one nation to another. But essentially this is a way to dress up the leftover veggies from a roast dinner, perhaps adding a bit of cheese on top (if you’re Scottish).

In French, there are no lack of equally entertaining names, so just to be fair I will include a few.

“Pouding chômeur” is a Depression-era recipe, hence a name that translates to “Poor Man’s Pudding”. It is a simple cake batter cooked over a caramel sauce. It is simply delicious.

“Pet de sœur” is pastry who’s name demonstrates well the French sense of humour. In English, we would just call these cinnamon swirls but if you translate the French name to English, it means “Nun’s Farts.

In Spanish, I find it interesting they are more matter-of-fact. There is no euphemistic phrasing, but rather a very direct description for dishes. Maybe that is cultural?

“Manitas de cerdo” is pig’s trotters, usually boiled for hours with herbs and spices. At least if you had to translate this, you would know exactly what you were eating. (I’m guessing anyone who wants a recipe for this might already know how to cook them.)

“Migas” is stale breadcrumbs sautéed in a pan. This is another “cook with what’s in the pantry”type of recipe. Usually a bit of bell pepper and bits of sausage are added. In Mexico, the base is tortilla chips, not bread crumbs.

Food always appeals to our sensibilities. The Spanish seem to be comfortable calling a spade a shovel, as my Gramps used to say. In French, they like to show a bit of tongue-in-cheek, even sarcastic humour. Across the pond, our English-speaking friends love to play with sounds and puns and references to get their point across.

Here in North America we have been influenced by the many cultures that have added to the overall tapestry of flavours and tastes.

Does it matter what we call our food, as long as we enjoy it? Just don’t forget to pass along the recipe if you want it to become a classic.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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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