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Happy-Gourmand

Howling at the moon

Coyotes and wolves have howled when the moon is out since Ancient Greek and Roman times. Hecate and Diana, goddesses of the moon, hung out with wild dogs in the night. 

In Norse mythology it is dogs running across the sky that chase the moon and sun for day and night to occur.

But did you know studies have shown coyotes and wolves don't really howl at the moon? More simply, they howl more when the moon is bright and the light makes their nocturnal activities easier.

They lift their heads to the sky to project the sound in the best way possible. And they are heard more often in the colder months when nights are longer and their mating season is on.

I find it interesting that the expression “howling at the moon” when used for people signifies pining for something that is out of reach or unattainable. If the animals use the moon as a tool to achieve even more and communicate farther, why would we not be able to make it work for us? I say it's worth a try.

Howling can act as a GPS signal, a rally cry, an alarm or even just to form a harmony. All these are worthwhile acts and valuable to the community as well as the individuals. In the same way, our figurative howling can be valuable.

As the cold long nights get longer and more pervasive, why not make the most of it? Maybe your howling is just for a bit of fun, like those pack harmonies. Or perhaps you want to gather inspiration for a goal or a new project. Even if you just want to be in the moment, a starry night is a great moment to take in.

Since we don't really have the ability to raise our snouts and howl, a nice cup of something warm would help set the mood. I like homemade hot chocolate:

  • fill your favourite mug with milk
  • Pour the milk into a medium saucepan and put on medium heat
  • Stir in 2-1/2 ounces of  chopped semisweet chocolate
  • Add 1 teaspoon honey
  • Sprinkle in a bit of spice - I like 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger for my large mug (you can try 1/4 tsp cayenne if you like it really spicy)
  • Whisk till ell blended. Pour into your mug once warm.

Howling at the moon might be about simple semantics, but that doesn't mean it can't be romantic too. 





Why did the chicken...?

We just returned from a trip with our camper trailer, touring the interior of the Western States.

It was a mostly remote trip, sprinkled with doses of civilization in various forms. We took in some classic Americana, and made great memories, too.

One of the interesting differences in culture once you cross the border is the abundance of Latino culture. There are taco trucks almost right away (the one in Oroville, Wash., is tasty and remarkably inexpensive).

If there is one kind of food America is known for, it’s the stuff of diners. Certainly, Guy Fieri has brought attention to all kinds of hidden gems cooking up burgers and hot dogs as well as traditional food for many family operations.

Since our trailer is retro-styled and a vintage model in its own right (from 1975), we liked the idea of a diner meal or two on our trip.The cozy atmosphere is right up our alley.

The Hi-Lo Café in Weed, CA. is worth a detour, but luckily the town of Weed is right at the junction of Highway 97 and Interstate 5. (I don’t know if marijuana is consumed at a higher rate than anywhere else, but the townspeople are friendly and generous.)

The Hi-Lo has been around since the 1950s, owned now by the third generation of an Italian immigrants family. They also own the adjacent motel and have a few RV spots out back by the creek.

We were arriving late and leaving early, so we enjoyed dinner and breakfast the next day at the café. My hubby had meatloaf for dinner (“traditional family recipe”). It tasted just as good as my mom’s meatloaf. I caved in to childhood nostalgia and had chili and chips; a delicious pile of homemade chili over hot, freshly made French fries.

Along with melted cheese and green onions on top, and a Dr. Pepper on the side, I was transported back to my teen years and a diner where we sometimes had lunch on a Saturday.

I am not at all ashamed to say I had banana cream pie for breakfast. It was amazing. I highly recommend it. Martin had homemade buttermilk biscuits and a side of bacon, and he hummed all the way through it. Isn’t it funny how we can be so easily pleased?

Our destination for the trip was a town outside Sacramento, where over 200 vintage trailers were gathering for a rally. What fun we had, meeting people from all over who had trailers from as far back as 1939.

A few were family heirlooms, some were like the ones people remembered as kids and had refurbished, and some were the product of enthusiastic hobbyists. If you are a fan, you can even just visit for the open house on Saturday at Trailerfest. Look it up!

We saw lots of old-fashioned food and drink at the rally — cheese balls with crackers, snickerdoodle cookies, bar trolleys set up for Bloody Marys or martinis, root beer floats, casseroles galore, and more than a few burgers, sandwiches and salads; much of it served in Tupperware or other wonderfully retro dishes.

Being in wine country, we did a bit of wine tasting and we tried a local brew at a microbrewery in Amador County. I did bring home a few bottles to enjoy at home.

My favourite memento was, of course, something for the kitchen. A lady I met one morning in the ladies’ room became a fast friend. She and her husband were celebrating their 59th wedding anniversary at the rally, and they camped in a little 12-foot trailer, the kind known affectionately as “canned ham” trailers because that is their shape.

Peggy and I traded goodies at the end of the weekend. I gave her a jar of our homemade greengage plum chutney, called “Pork Jam”, and she gave me a  vintage salt and pepper set in the shape of chickens (she liked the chickens on our trailer).

I laughed, thinking: “Why did the chicken cross the road?” It must have been to make a new friend.

We came home pleased to have seen so much beautiful scenery and met such wonderful people.

There are differences south of the border, but the smiles and friendship seem the same on both sides of the road.



Fall's flying fairies

It’s official – fall is here.

I have gotten over the initial shock of the seasons changing, and now I am working to soak in the magic of autumn.

I am not looking forward to getting up in the dark, but I’m adjusting to the idea of long pants and sweaters. It’s chilly on my scooter in the mornings now – no more bare legs of summer for this girl.

The pears and squash have arrived at the market – the signal that fall is well underway. The best thing is just to grin and bear it, and see the light that shines through those autumn clouds.

I believe there are fairies that help with just that kind of thing on dreary days….

Have you ever walked through an orchard on a dark day? If there is sun through the clouds, especially in the morning, it has a magical effect.

I walk with Simon and Ella every morning through the trees, and this time of year, the pears look like they have been lit from within.

It’s as if we are wandering through some secret pathway where the fairies have left the lanterns lit to guide you on your way. And if you eat one of those pears, the taste is magical too.

The canned pears of my youth tasted nothing like the ambrosia I am fortunate enough to sample most mornings in September at Rabbit Hollow.

You can tell it’s the fairies that do this work because their playful rings are everywhere of late. Do you have tiny mushrooms growing in your grass? I bet if you do, you will see the circular patterns in how they grow.

They are left behind after the magical chants the fairies sing as they dance in a circle at night. Did you know that?

Did anyone ever tell you why you should polish an apple when you pick it off a tree? That’s because you need to make sure you don’t eat too much fairy dust.

It falls off as they fly by, playing their games in the dark. Too much fairy dust can make you giddy.

I am hoping the fairies can clear the way for a bit more sunshine. I have tomatoes still to ripen, and plums to pick for jam, and tomatillos and peppers that want more time too.

I know those fairies are dancing through the night, making every moment count. When the geese fly and the cold winds blow, they have to fly away too.

Jack Frost owns the winter season, and he only tolerates winter fairies with their skates when he is in town.

I’m taking a lesson from the fall fairies, enjoying my morning pears and frolicking in the grass with my dogs. I wonder what would happen if we danced in a circle?



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The taste of melancholy

The days are still sunny – thankfully, we even have blue skies – and wearing shorts and T-shirts is still not out of the question, but fall is coming.

When I walk the dogs in the morning, the air has a chill, and the sun is peeking over the hill noticeably later every day. Most of all what I notice is the taste of fall.

All summer long I munched on fresh fruit – apricots, cherries, and then peaches all fresh off the trees. They were luscious and juicy, sweet and flavourful. Their colours even seem to advertise summer with all those warm tones of orange and red.

Now though, the pears are in season, and as much as I love the floral and honey flavours in a freshly picked pear they make me a bit sad. They remind me that summer is over.

Pears are the perfect symbol of autumn with their more reserved appearance and muted flavours. I admire their character.

However, I find pears remind me of getting back to more formal routines and more structured tastes. I am one of those people who doesn’t give summer up easily. If melancholy has a taste, it tastes like the first fresh pear of fall.

Pears can be elegant; they are used as a design element in some homes through paintings and sculpture. We don’t eat pears just like that, the way we munch on summer fruit.

They like to be prepared, even if it’s with a cheese platter. Poached pears are like a work of art on a plate in their minimalist style, and even pear butter can have a refined taste and texture.

Since I’m in a rebellious mood, I’d like to offer up a recipe that is a bit more unusual. The pears offer a beautiful flavour but served face down in this tart they show off a more casual presentation.

I learned how to make Pear Tart Bourdaloue when I lived in France, and it remains one of my favourite desserts, only made in pear season.

It’s an old French recipe that dates back hundreds of years and is still made in many pastry shops.

I hope you don’t think I’m trying to present a case for eating one’s way out of a blue funk. (That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed the odd cookie or spoonful of ice cream to cheer me up…)

Think of this as an outside-the-box experience, a way to ease into the autumnal season with a rustic dish. It’s like wearing shorts and sandals even when the temperature starts to dip a little, or sitting on the patio wearing a sweater.

PEAR TART BOURDALOUE

For the pastry

  • 1 2⁄3 cups flour
  • 1⁄4 cup sugar
  • 1⁄2 tsp. salt
  • 10 tbsp. chilled butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1⁄2 tsp. vanilla extract

For the filling

  • 2 1⁄4 cups sugar
  • 4 Bosc pears, peeled
  • 2⁄3 cup blanched sliced almonds
  • 1⁄3 cup icing sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split
  • 2 1⁄3 cups milk
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1⁄2 cup flour
  • 2 tbsp. chilled butter
  • 1⁄2 cup (approx.. 6) crushed Amaretti cookies

Method

Sift together flour, sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Cut in butter using a pastry cutter or your fingers. Stir together egg yolk and vanilla in a small bowl, then work into flour mixture until it resembles coarse cornmeal. Add 3 tbsp. ice water, 1 tbsp. at a time, mix until dough holds together, then form into a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 400F. Roll out dough into a 14'' round on a lightly floured surface; ease into a 12'' tart pan with removable bottom and prick all over with a fork. Cover with aluminum foil, fill with pie weights or dried beans, and bake for 20 minutes. Carefully remove foil and weights and set shell aside to cool. Do not turn off oven.

For filling, bring 4 cups water and 1 1⁄2 cups sugar to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low, halve pears, and poach until tender, 20–25 minutes. Remove, allow to cool, then cut out cores.

Combine 1⁄3 cup almonds and icing sugar in a food processor. Grind just until fine. Scrape seeds from vanilla bean into milk and heat till warm in a small saucepan over medium heat. Combine eggs, remaining sugar, and flour in a large saucepan.

Slowly whisk in hot milk and cook, whisking, over medium heat until thick, 3–6 minutes. Transfer to a mixing bowl, add almond meal and butter, and stir until butter melts. Set aside to cool.

Spoon cooled custard into tart shell. Lay pears, stem end in to the centre, in custard and bake until crust is golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Preheat broiler. Sprinkle amaretti and remaining almonds on top of tart, dust with icing sugar, and broil until brown, about 2 minutes.

Tart can be eaten warm or cold.



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

 



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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