Holiday in small morsels

We just returned from Jamaica where we put ourselves in reset mode, focusing on storing away some tropical memories for use on stressful days later in the year.

Since we returned home to much more winter than expected, I thought I would share a few tastes of the tropics with you, so we can all forget the blowing snow for a moment and feel the warmth of the sun and the sand.

Starting the day in the tropics is quite possibly the best part. I love breakfast, and I love being warm. Not having to bundle up when I get out of bed puts me in a good mood right away; nibbling on fresh papaya and pineapple feels wonderfully decadent.

Combined with the sweet breads often filled with coconut and fruity Jamaican coffee, this is the breakfast of champions, if you ask me. I think it must have been Usain Bolt’s secret.

My other favourite breakfast is ackee and salt fish. Not everyone likes salted fish, but I suppose, with my Icelandic roots, I have the right palate for it. Sauteed with ackee, a flavourful tropical fruit that can only be eaten cooked, it makes a savoury hot dish that will always remind me of Jamaica. You must try it if you get the chance.

There is a wonderful fishmonger in Kelowna who works hard to offer the best seafood in season. But how can you beat fresh off the boat that day, especially after having seen it live underwater while diving?

We had Caribbean lobster and snapper most days where we stayed, and it was delicious. Caribbean lobster is different than the cold-water variety we are used to eating; it is softer meat and is not quite as sweet. I love it with Jerk butter.

The snapper is tender and delicate, a perfect foil to the tangy escovitch sauce they usually serve it with.

Many people know Jamaica for its jerk spice. This blend of herbs and hot peppers used as a rub or sauce for chicken and pork is as popular as barbecue sauce in North America. That and curried goat are common meat dishes for a main meal, usually served with rice and peas and some kind of squash.

I love the intense flavours and rainbow of colours on the plate.

Dessert is not really sweet in Jamaica, but rather rich. Coconut and dried fruits are common, and pastry is usually quite short and buttery.

Rum cake is what I look for, black as the Caribbean night and studded with rum-soaked fruits and nuts. Gizzaras are delicious too – shredded coconut filling in a tart shell.

Both my hubby and I love to scuba dive, experiencing the wonders of that other world under the surface of the sea. Sometimes a simple taste can be the best culmination of a great experience, and for me sucking on a Jolly Rancher candy after a dive is just that.

The last of the sea’s saltiness and the fruity candy meld in my mind with the memories of nurse sharks, starfish, and eagle rays.

If you are more of a beach lover, then let me paint this picture for you: sipping on a Dirty Banana with your toes in the fine white sand as the waves lap the shore and the sandpipers’ little feet as they run.

The flavours of rum cream and coffee liqueur with milk and ice and a fresh banana are the perfect tropical sustenance.

If you are still feeling peckish, you can always grab a Jamaican patty (the island version of a Cornish pasty, with curried veggies or chicken).

For those who like to venture out, there is the famous Pelican Bar on the South Coast. This rickety shack sits on a sand bar all on its own, and it offers a delightfully rustic environment to enjoy a local drink.

Many choose Red Stripe, but I’m not a big beer fan when it’s hot, so I chose a Dark n’ Stormy (rum and ginger beer).

My thinking was that it’s like carrying an umbrella; nothing will happen if I have one.

In the evening, there is nothing better than wandering down to the dock and watching for manta rays under the stars. You can sip on that delicious local coffee, or a bit of rum cream on ice if you like.

If you’re like me, when you see a shooting star, you wish that you can come back again soon.

Glue of my childhood

When I was a kid, things were different.

We didn’t have all kinds of packaged foods for lunch; it was simple sandwiches. Peanut butter was the most common filling.

I know what you’re thinking: “Here she goes; next thing you know, she’ll be telling us she walked uphill to school both ways.” 

But seriously, 40 years ago a peanut allergy was rare and peanut butter was a food that fit in everyone’s budget.

I was a Skippy kid. Back then, Skippy was a popular brand. It was the one with the peanut on top. We had Kraft, and Jif, and a few brands that were unsweetened, but that was about it. 

I remember a brand whose jar had the jelly already in it too; it looked cool with its stripes, but my mom convinced my brother and me it was better to choose our own jam each time.

It could be said that nostalgia makes foods taste better, but the foods of my childhood feed my soul. The comfort of sticky peanut butter and jam or banana slices between soft fresh bread is like a warm blanket. And the exact nature of that sandwich is a very personal thing.

The finer points of a PB & J could be discussed in the lunchroom for days on end. Which kind of jam was your favourite? What kind of bread? And of course what kind of peanut butter? Smooth or crunchy?

I like smooth peanut butter with raspberry jam on sourdough for a sandwich, and crunchy with bananas on brown toast. You can’t buy Skippy in B.C. any more; I have to stock up when we go to America in the summer (Wal-Mart sells a one kg tub for people like me).

You can buy many more kinds of nut spreads now though — there are cashew and almond butters galore, and  hemp butter, too. I wonder if the rise of nut allergies helped inspire these innovations.

The world is a smaller place now and lunch boxes show that from their contents. Sandwiches are less common as more ethnic foods have become familiar. You can eat anything from soup to nuts, as the saying goes, and even the nuts can be in a new flavour. 

Nutella is now a popular condiment, perhaps more common for breakfast than lunch, but just as dear to the hearts of European folks as our peanut butter is to us.

Did you hear about the riots in France when a grocery chain put Nutella on sale? The news video shows people pushing and shouting their way to the display to stock up. 

I don’t want to see peanut butter riots, but I do hope that my soul food doesn’t disappear into the annals of history.

That sticky stuff helped hold me together as I grew into an adult, and that feeling on the roof of my mouth as I eat it now has the same value as a cozy hug.

Excuse me now while I go put the toaster on.... I have a hankering. 

What now, February?

It’s grey outside. The weather will not co-operate. It’s either slushy and mucky or snowing like crazy.

Just when you think it can’t get any worse, It’s February.

How is it the shortest month of the year is the hardest one to take? In January, the excuses for being depressed seem reasonable: we are poor and suffering withdrawal from the extravagance of the holiday season. We are feeling the pressure of a new year and its expectations.

But instead of shaking off that funk in February, we just sink deeper into it.

To help you regain your sense of humour, so you can approach February with a smile instead of a grimace, I’m offering up my list of reasons why February sucks, if you’ll pardon the vernacular.

Feel free to share any of these, tongue firmly planted in cheek, as you assist others out of the winter darkness.

  • Snow has lost its appeal. It’s romantic and exciting at Christmas, but by now we are tired of shovelling. Whether we are hip deep in the stuff or dealing with slush that freezes, we are wishing it would go away.
  • Winter holidays either aren’t long enough, or we don’t get one. (And those who live down south are sick of hearing about the woes of the North.) How often do you see enticing ads for tropical vacations or news about winter depression? The beach picture on your screensaver probably used up its charm, didn’t it? And ordering a drink with an umbrella isn’t the same if your toes aren’t in the sand.
  • We aren’t seeing results at the gym. As we work our way into the second month of the year, we are looking for results, for encouragement. But our New Year’s resolutions don’t develop momentum that fast. Winter depression and the temptation of chocolate around Valentine's Day is enough to drive any sane person to tip the scales on the heavy side.
  • There are germs everywhere. Everyone gets sick in the winter. It’s a top news story. If the stress of being cold and not as fit as we’d like isn’t enough, the fear of catching the flu will make us sick with worry.
  • Valentine's Day does not help. Even the history of this saint’s day is dark and murky, and today it’s regarded as a holiday in bad taste despite the chocolate. I wouldn’t be surprised to see single people don’t march in protest.
  •  Damp cold, dry cold – they are all awful. I know complaining about the weather is silly, but we’re Canadian, it’s what we do in the winter. I just wish my skin didn’t feel like it belonged on an alligator.
  • Layers are for cake, and hat hair is not the fashion statement I was looking for. Don’t you feel like you should towel off with a dryer sheet to avoid more static cling? My hair is frizzy, I’m tired of itchy wool sweaters and my toes want to be free of socks again.
  • We have already binge watched everything on TV. Most of us also saw all the new release movies during the Christmas break, too. So now what – am I supposed to take up knitting or crossword puzzles? I don’t know about you, but I feel a bit like Jack Nicholson right about now…
  • Enough with the comfort food, already. I’m stewed out. I don’t want to even think about another flavour of soup. I’m going stir crazy waiting for the time when most vegetables will taste like something besides their packaging.

And here is the most flagrant abuse of our sensitive state during this tough time of year:

  • Whose idea was it to make a rodent in charge of my continued happiness? Seriously folks, how did we make Groundhog Day and its representative the arbiter of spring? Talk about an unreliable source. I think Bill Murray expressed the general winter sentiment best in the namesake movie:
    “You want a prediction about the weather? You're asking the wrong Phil. I'm going to give you a prediction about this winter? It's going to be cold, it's going to be dark and it's going to last you for the rest of your lives!”

As you prepare for the 28 days of purgatory that comes between us and spring, try to giggle and keep your chin up.

Just remember your scarf so your neck doesn’t get cold, and some lip balm to keep your lips from cracking when you smile.

Let them eat cake

On Jan. 20, my stepdaughter is getting married in Whistler. Since her dad is a chef, he is providing the cake for the occasion.

I think most girls look forward to that special father-daughter moment of walking down the aisle, but how many get to say Papa made dessert?

Weddings are full of tradition, and they usually involve much pomp and ceremony. Nowadays, with media such as Pinterest and YouTube, it's easy to see the myriad of options available for every part of the special day.

This can be a slippery slope; it's easy to want more than you can afford and there's only so much time to make do-it-yourself knick-knacks.

Hosting a large party is always a big undertaking, and making all the pieces happen adds up in time and money. However, there is certainly a bit of magic involved as well and that part can’t be found online.

It comes from personal memories and relationships and it's generally uncontrollable — it just happens, like snowflakes or rainbows.

Families have had cake as part of a wedding reception since Roman times. It is not as common now for cake crumbs to be sprinkled over the couple’s head for good luck, but cakes do still symbolize good fortune. The stacked tiers with extravagant icing and decoration are a centrepiece in the room.

Did you know the custom of the bride and groom cutting the cake comes from simple origins? The bride originally would pass out all the pieces on her own, but as the celebrations got bigger and bolder, her groom was required to help her cut through a bigger cake and deliver more pieces.

I know my stepdaughter will be keen to cut into her cake. She has always loved her father’s desserts. I remember a Happy Face cake for one birthday (I think she was six), but her tastes didn't take long to get more refined.

Chocolate mousse cake became the preferred choice, and, of course, the decorations were worthy of a chef — no simple spread icing for this princess. Sugar art was more her style.

We all deserve to be a princess for a day, with all the trimmings. Chloae wants to have a winter wedding with snowflakes and icicles, and this cake will look like an ice castle.

Each of the four spectacular layers has a different flavour, so she will be hard pressed to choose which one to taste (but that’s where having a partner comes in handy).

My husband loves his daughter more than anything. Some of our friends asked if he was going to cater the wedding, but he was much happier to have the job of walking his girl down the aisle.

He will give a wonderful toast to the couple, but his special tribute will be shown in the cake, and I know that his daughter will hold that image, and taste, in her heart.

But the real magic will come when we all share in the moment by having our own piece of cake. The famous quote, “Let them eat cake,” was said to be uttered by a French queen to the peasants during a time of famine.

This weekend we will turn that sentiment on its head when each of us will be a part of wishing the couple a life together that is worthy of much celebrating — and cake. 

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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