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Happy-Gourmand

Salad by any other name...

As things heat up, I am encouraged to see the garden grow, and know that soon we will have our own veggies from the garden.

Salad is a staple at our house during the warm season, and I love being able to gather the ingredients from the back yard. I remember as a kid that the usual salad was with iceberg lettuce before we had a garden.

That got me thinking about the evolution of salad…

My Gramps used to talk about lettuce like it was a wild plant, which seemed pretty strange to me. He spoke of using dandelion greens in a salad, a not very appealing idea in my book.

As a five-year old, I thought he was teasing me when he said the kids were sent out to pick them, trying to get me to do the dirty work in the yard.

Gramps also talked about “lamb’s quarters,” which sounded equally suspicious. I would learn later that what we now eat in many mesclun salad mixes had that earlier name because it has a “leg of mutton” sort of shape to its leaf.

I am not sure why I didn’t search out those greens earlier in life, as I was never much of a fan of iceberg lettuce. I figured it must have that name because it tasted so watery. They say the name comes from the mountains of crushed ice they transported it in when it became popular in the 1920s.

So, how, you may ask, did we get to where we are? I think we can pat ourselves and our free-thinking parents on the back, allowing adventure and curiosity to take over from routine and familiarity.

Don’t get me wrong; a good dose of familiarity once and again helps one keep their sanity. But salad is so much more than iceberg lettuce and bottled Kraft dressing.

No offence to Kraft is intended. I ate Catalina dressing and other similar concoctions as a kid, but they were akin to thinking that watching a movie on one of those portable players is the same as being in a theatre.

Embracing new ideas and creative quirks has brought us into a new age, where we can hold our heads high and say we know our stuff.

Just think – today, salad doesn’t even have to include lettuce…

  • I have had watermelon, cucumber and radish salad that was a far more exciting tribute to crisp, crunchy, clean tastes than plain iceberg lettuce.
  • Wedge salads with iceberg and homemade flavourful dressing can be very homey, and Mexican bean salads and Thai noodle salads transport you clear across the world.
  • Adding candied nuts to a simple green salad really takes it uptown, and adding tamari-roasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds lets me think of what it must have been like to be a hippie.

At this rate, you can understand how salad has become dinner all by itself.

I leave you this week with a recipe I found that resurrects one of those dressings that became a representation of mass-produced blandness, but here it is elevated to a level where it has almost become the salad itself.

The suggestion was to serve it with iceberg lettuce, but I will leave you to choose your own canvas to paint on.

Happy munching!

THOUSAND ISLAND DRESSING

There is a debate whether this recipe originates in Canada (the Thousand Islands are in the St. Lawrence River), or in the U.S., where a chef in Chicago is said to have first whipped it up.

Some say it is named to represent the thousand little chopped up pieces.

This homemade version is certainly a far cry from the mass-produced condiment that has now become “special sauce” for many a fast-food chain.

Fold together:

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tbsp chili sauce
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped white onions
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped dill pickle
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped cooked beets
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped hard-cooked egg
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped chives
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped pimientos
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf (Italian) parsley

Season with:

  • ½ tsp Worchestershire sauce
  • Salt, pepper

Mix gently with a rubber spatula and serve over lettuce.



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Female energy of spring

May is a month for matriarchs, it seems.

Mothers' Day was May 14 in Canada and this weekend we celebrate Victoria Day (Queen Victoria's birthday). In Quebec they have Patriot’s Day, but I'm sure there were female patriots, too.

What is it about this spring month that connects it to our celebration of women?

I know Queen Victoria didn't choose her birthday, but we could have adjusted that holiday.

"May Two-Four," as it's known in much of the country, is the unofficial start to the summer season. So why didn't we just go with that reason for a modern-day holiday?

I think it's because our vision of matriarchs fits so well with the positive energy of spring. The generally sunny disposition of moms despite all the challenges they endure is a lot like the flowers of May.

Mothers’ Day was created by a woman in America who wanted to pay tribute to her mom. Unfortunately, she withdrew her support of the idea once she saw how commercial the occasion had become.

I agree that just like most holidays now, most of the fuss is around the material side of celebrating — buy flowers and a card, take mom out for a meal.

History has shown that admirable leaders appreciate recognition from their followers more than most other forms of pomp and ceremony. I know my mom’s fondest memories are of homemade cards and the slightly botched recipes I made over the years.

My mom has long been a fan of the royal family. When I was a child, she recounted stories of the Queen Mum's acts of support for the people – like being out and about in London during the Second World War even after the bombings. (This was Elizabeth, the current queen's mother). She sounded like a superhero.

I always thought the Queen Mom was a wonderful personification for Victoria Day — widowed, but still a busy and popular public figure, and known for giving great moral support to the people.

Queen Victoria was, of course, also a strong woman. She was a world leader in an age when men were generally regarded as smarter and better than women.

The monarchy was established and run on constitutional power, but she worked privately to effect change and was a moral compass for her people.

My mom always said we have no royal connections, but I still wonder if she is a distant cousin. She was the moral compass in our family, the one who taught good manners and encouraged empathy.

She is still elegant and graceful, but never haughty; her elegance came through naturally, even when in grubby jeans working in the garden.

You might not be a monarchist, but I hope you can see your way to cheering on strong women. Spring is a time of renewal – why not make a fresh start if your habit was to buy Mom a card, and let her prepare the picnic for the May long weekend?

I’ll finish with a quote from Queen Victoria. I am sure a lot of great moms out there have said much the same thing.

“Great events make me quiet and calm; it is only trifles that irritate my nerves.”



Getting down and dirty

They say April showers bring May flowers. In the Okanagan this year, we are all hoping very strongly for that to happen, since we are feeling a bit waterlogged.

Thankfully, here in Paradise, a slump never lasts long – as I like to say, if the weather is all there is to complain about then we’re doing alright.

That said, I do have a few pet peeves I will share with you; if you are a fellow gardener or even just a foodie I think you will commiserate with me. The flowers of May might magically appear after a rain, but the vegetables need considerably more work before they decide to grace my garden with their presence.

WHY IS DIRT SO DIRTY?

Have you ever noticed how hard it is to get your fingernails clean after a day of gardening?

Even if you wear gloves, there is a pesky line of microscopic and super-heavy dirt particles that settles at the bottom of your nails. No amount of soaking, scrubbing or washing will get them clean. I have a feeling gel nails were invented by a female gardener who had a few parties to attend in gardening season.

Dirt is even more difficult to remove when it gets wet. Here at Rabbit Hollow, we have heavy clay soil. As mud, it sticks in big clumps to gardening tools and gloves, gumboots, and dog paws with a vengeance.

On a rainy day I have a three-phase, canine paw-washing procedure that is required before we go back inside.

HOW COME GARDENS ARE ALWAYS IN THE GROUND?

You may think I’m being ridiculous – and in case you’re wondering, yes, I do have some raised beds and containers.

Even those are still only “a wee ways” off the ground, as my Gramps would have said. I am six feet tall. That’s a lot of bending. Gardening has made me flexible, bending at the knees and with my back and reaching with my arms.

My real reward comes later in the season though, when plants grow taller and I can look up again.

On a revolutionary note, I can tell you we are looking into getting a Tower Garden for the winter. As the name suggests, the format of this growing system is a tall cylinder with lights and an irrigation system.

It would allow us to have some homegrown edible greens year round, with no bending over. That’s a system worth saluting.

CAN’T PLANTS GROW FASTER?

Curiosity is one of the qualities I have in abundance, and it is often piqued in the garden.

I try all kinds of different plants every year, and different growing methods. When I lived in Calgary, I so desperately wanted to grow heirloom tomatoes. Unfortunately, the ones I chose took too long for a place that was notorious for late summer snowfalls.

I was left with only green tomatoes to harvest.

One of my earliest motivations for having a green thumb was the good old chia pet. Who wouldn’t want to try growing something that would almost change in front of your eyes? The only thing better would have been edible sea monkeys.

Alas, nothing I have ever planted grows quite that fast.

All kidding aside, after years of mucking about in the dirt all hunched over and flailing in autumn storms to gather what bounty there was, I have come to love the satisfaction of toiling in the earth and having something to show for my efforts.

I have huge admiration for farmers, those dedicated individuals who choose to work with mercurial Mother Nature for their livelihood. I have discovered that weeding makes for excellent anger management therapy.

Best of all, my faith is renewed every spring when the flowers reappear and I feel the giddiness of a child when the first radishes peek above the earth and beans grow on the stalks. A sense of reverence envelopes me when I harvest my very own veggies and serve them as a meal. 

I suppose that’s worth a few dirty fingernails, a bit of impatience and a sore back.





Sweet story about Betty

Did Betty Crocker ever really bake a cake?

My mom sent me an interesting article on Duncan Hines this week – the real fellow, not just the cake mixes. Did you know he wasn’t a chef, but a travelling salesman who liked good food?

He ended up writing a guide for roadside diners, one of the first in America, and that made him a respected name in the food world. His name was put on products as a seal of approval. Back in the 1950s, you would have seen Duncan Hines ice cream as well as cake mix.

I finished the article quite pleased that I had learned a bit of food industry history. It made me wonder about other food characters on brands — were they real or fictional?

Just in case you have an inquisitive mind like mine, here are the answers for a few of the food ambassadors I remember. If nothing else, you can be clever around the water cooler this week.

BETTY CROCKER

Duncan Hines’ compatriot in the cake mix world was not a real person, but she was invented by a woman.

Marjorie Husted worked at Washburn Crosby Company where she felt they needed a personality that was “warm” and would help customer relations by personalizing their products.

Betty sounded like a warm name to her, and she chose the surname of a company executive for a touch of authenticity. Washburn Crosby would later merge with other companies to become General Mills.

Betty’s look would change over the years to stay current with the times, but her image was often a blend of characteristics from many people. There have been eight Betty Crocker portraits done in the 81 years that Betty has had a public image.

SARA LEE

About the same time as Betty and Duncan, there was a baker in Chicago named Charles Lubin. He named a cheesecake after his daughter and it became a best seller.

He ended up changing the name of his business to “the Kitchens of Sara Lee” and when he was bought out, the corporation followed suit when the products were their best brand – they changed their company name to Sara Lee.

In case you’re wondering, Sara Lee didn’t get into baking; she worked to encourage women in science.

AUNT JEMIMA

I think most people know this person is fictional. She has become a much less popular character in recent history, as the social acceptance for racial personages turned to disapproval.

However, Nancy Green, the former slave who was hired to be Aunt Jemima at the 1893 World’s Columbian Expo in Chicago did end up with a lifetime contract after her popular stint at the fair serving pancakes to the crowds.

The company changed its name to Aunt Jemima Mills in 1913 (it is now owned by Quaker Oats). Over the years three other women became the face of Aunt Jemima, but now a composite portrait is used, depicting a more respectful character.

CHEF BOYARDEE

Here is a true American immigrant story. Ettore Boiardi arrived in New York to work at the Plaza Hotel kitchens.

He was only 16 years old, but his brother (a maitre d’ at the hotel) put in a good word for him. A year later he was the executive chef. He catered the second wedding of President Woodrow Wilson.

A few years after that, he moved to Cleveland and opened a restaurant, becoming well known for his pasta dishes. He began making take-out kits for his patrons, and well, the rest is history.

The brand name spelling came about because his one problem was that Americans couldn’t pronounce his name. And yes, that really was his face on the label.

OSCAR MAYER

“I wish I was an Oscar Mayer wiener…” stuck in my head for much of my childhood. I don’t remember a face to go with the name, but the brand certainly stuck.

Oscar and his brother that had a butcher shop in Chicago at the turn of the 20th century. In 1904, they expanded the business and began to use Oscar’s name to promote their products.

The brothers were very conscientious, being the first meat company to volunteer for the meat inspection program in the U.S. in 1906. The company remained an independent family business for almost a century; it was bought by General Mills in 1989 (which was then bought by Kraft Foods).

As a side note, their TV commercials of the 60s and 70s with the wiener song and the also-famous bologna song are some of the longest running ads in history.

Nowadays, companies seem more inclined to look for celebrity endorsements than to have a brand ambassador. I miss all those old characters of my childhood. I don’t really care if I eat the same kind of food as someone famous. I liked feeling that I knew the people behind the food, regular folks like me.

Times change, and so do tastes. My brand ambassadors today are more likely to be farmers. I guess it’s all about respecting where your food comes from.



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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