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Happy-Gourmand

An embarrassment of riches

Well, here we are – in the thick of it.

Summer has hit us full force with that wonderful sunshine and heat we all anticipate so impatiently. With the heat comes the tourists, a part of summer many people like not as much.

The good news is, the heat also means the bounty begins. Get your appetites ready, people.

First, we have berries. At our house we have two kinds of raspberries, huckleberries, currants and gooseberries. Thankfully they don’t all ripen at the same time.

However, there are times when I can go out and eat my fill as I pick a big bowl of everbearing golden raspberries and it doesn’t even look like I was there. We make jam, jelly, scones, fool, ice cream, tarts, financiers … we eat them on yogurt in the morning and on salad in the evening. And still they come. If berries were currency, I could retire tomorrow.

But they aren’t, so instead I’m just happy filling my cheeks like a chipmunk.

Then it’s apricots. I never tasted a fresh apricot as a kid, but even dried they tasted a bit like sunshine. Fresh off the tree, they are sublime, and in a tart or a crumble they add a delicious tangy buttery taste with other fruits.

This tanginess is delicious in fruit salsa too, served with chicken or fish, so don’t go thinking fruit is only for sweet dishes. The one thing I wouldn’t do with apricots is freeze them. They lose much of their punch once thawed.

Just enjoy them in season as much as you can. Don’t wait – there are more fruits ripening right behind them that you need to taste as well.

The next Okanagan delicacy is usually cherries. These are my absolute favourite; regular readers will remember my stories of how much of a luxury cherries were when I was a child. I could put cherries in just about anything, but my favourite way to eat them is from a bowl.

Cherries are a symbol of decadence, giving that feeling of being spoiled but waiting for the universe to correct itself and punish us at any moment. Too good to be true, you know? (I am reminded of that old Erma Bombeck book, “If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?” every time I fill the bowl.)

The best way I have of tempering that feeling is with a simple recipe: Clafoutis. Breakfast or dessert, but rustic either way.

Once you’ve eaten your weight in cherries, then it’s time for peaches.

If you’ve never had the chance to eat a peach right off the tree, warm from the Okanagan sun, make that your mission this summer. It’s a divine experience.

When you don’t have an orchard handy, a good way to enjoy peaches is in crumble or cobbler. Or you could grill them and serve them with a drizzle of honey, some chopped toasted nuts and a bit of vanilla ice cream or yogurt.

Amidst the continuous barrage of fresh fruit ripening on the trees, there are also the veggies. Some of them take all summer to develop – don’t ask anyone with a garden if they need tomatoes in late August. But the one vegetable that is the poster child of over abundance is the zucchini. You can never grow just one zucchini.

Growing zucchini is satisfying. They are hard to kill once you have them in the garden, and the more you pick the more you get. You have to pick them regularly because as soon as you miss a day, you’ll go back and find one the size of a football.

Forget Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, I’ve had bad dreams about fast-growing squash overtaking the world. My best defence has been to make zucchini loaf. To help offset the idea of feeling it was too healthy, I added chocolate to the recipe.

I hope this little “A to Z” of fruits and vegetables will give you some inspiration this summer. I know you want to eat ice cream and drink cocktails on the patio, but make sure you save some time for the delicious bounty out there.

Happy munching!



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Marshmallows in firelight

Sitting on the deck as the moon rose and the sun set one night this week, I was struck by memories of summers as a kid, when one of the things we did on a Friday night was to have a bonfire.

Whether it was camping trips in the interior of B.C. or times visiting my cousins in Vancouver, sitting around a fire was one of the decadent things I remember in my teens.

Of course, the ubiquitous snack around our campfires was the unassuming marshmallow. (In those days sugar was enough rebellion against our parents – the thought of any contraband stronger than that was not worth the risk.)  No messing around with something as silly as s’mores; we were marshmallow purists, we were.

I don’t know if young people today find something as monochromatic as a bonfire interesting. We saw the magic in the firelight, we were mesmerized by the flickering flames and — if we were fortunate — by the strumming of a guitar.

It was around a campfire that I learned the many verses of “Esther’s Hebrew Camp” (sung to the tune of a more well-known folk favourite by Arlo Guthrie, Alice’s Restaurant – this version was just as irreverent).

It was also around a campfire that I had my first kiss. I have many campfire tales, not just the ghost stories we told but also adventures we had.

I will never forget the summer we spent in the Rockies, hiking the trails of the Illecillewaet Glacier  one afternoon and getting caught in a torrential downpour on the return trip.

This was the summer I got my first pair of sneakers that looked even close to the coveted double stripe suede Adidas of my childhood, and it was the closest I had been so far to being cool (I needed all the help I could get).

Everyone’s shoes were soaked upon our return. Since we were tent camping, we put them around the fire that evening to dry them out. The only problem was, mine were made of vinyl.

I am sure I don’t need to explain the gory details. Suffice it to say, the only thing that made me feel a bit better was getting ready to roast marshmallows. Little did I know the night’s adventures had only begun...

I will interject a bit more background here, letting you know that my cousin (who is the same age as me)  was a rather rambunctious child. (He has kids of his own now, and bought them each “Super Soaker” water guns so that when they had water fights, they could really hold their own – you can see he hasn’t lost his charm.)

Well, the marshmallows and the sticks came out for roasting time, and soon the flamboyant gestures begun. My cousin knew better than to try manoeuvres like those of some sword fighter in medieval times, but he just couldn’t resist.

In between “dodge” and “spin” I think, was when he managed to get his stick — with cooked (and very sticky) marshmallow — stuck in my hair, at the back of my left pigtail. Again, I won’t bore you with the gory details; the only thing I will say is that I bear no permanent scars from the event.

At the time, I was mortified and crushed that I could be subject to such cruelty and humiliation (and all in one night too). But you know what? I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything in the world. I seem to remember my Dad telling me that such experiences “built character,” and he was right.

They are the stuff that holds families and friendships together. My cousin sent me a flaming marshmallow emoji on Facebook not too long ago, in honour of the event. Such symbols are like rites of passage.

I hope that there are kids out there who still get to know the camaraderie that can occur around a campfire. I hope they get to share stories with their parents, and then years later with their kids, around a fire.

“Kumbaya” to each and every one of you.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: We can have times when it is illegal to have a campfire during the summer. This week’s column is simply reminiscing; it is not meant to encourage campfires in an environment where fires are not welcome.

I would hope that anyone entertaining the idea of a fire would take every precaution to ensure it is safe and it is well put out when the fun is over.



Simple summer pleasures

It’s so much easier to enjoy yourself in summer, don’t you think?

The other seasons have more unpredictable weather, so you need to plan your clothing. Safety can be a consideration, what with storms and snow and ice.

The days are shorter, so time management is tougher. Not to mention the expectation that we must be more productive. In hot weather, it’s acceptable to have a siesta or at least a drink on the patio.

Summer is my busy season for work, so simple pleasures can get often get lost in the shuffle. As such, I wanted to line up a summer bucket list, to make sure I capture my favourite moments of the season.

Feel free to steal from this list if any of these ideas strike your fancy. I’m going to keep it short this week – it’s about the action, the experience – not explaining it. As Nike says, “Just do it.”

Eating watermelon from a balcony

Watermelon seeds have been found in the tombs of the Egyptian pharaohs. Talk about a classic hot weather food. It could be called the quintessential taste of summer.

The duplex in which I grew up had a narrow balcony at the front of the house. The house overlooked a busy road and there was barely enough room for a chair, so pretty much the only activity worth doing there was eating fresh watermelon slices.

You could spit the seeds over the railing, and even compete to see who could spit the farthest. In our current house, we have a front and a back deck, so I’m thinking I’ll try both and see which one inspires me more.

I wonder, did the pharaohs try spitting seeds from the pyramids?

Catching the Ice Cream Man

(You’re thinking, does she ever want to do anything that’s new to this century? It’s a consequence of getting older, the desire for nostalgia, so indulge me for a few more points.)

Once you hear that silly music, you know for the rest of your life it means the Ice Cream Man is coming down the road in his truck. I used to love Fudgsicles, but I don’t remember the last time I saw one.

If I can’t find an ice cream truck to chase, perhaps I’ll try the little freezer by the cash in a gas station. Maybe that’s where the Fudgsicles are hiding. That seems a much better memory than wandering the aisles of Walmart.

Floating on the lake

Here is an activity I never tried as a kid. Our summer holidays were on the coast. And, as you may know, floating with a tide is precarious at best. When one lives in the Okanagan though, one needs to learn to enjoy the lake.

For me, that is about taking my dog for a swim or floating. (The two activities don’t go together, as Labrador retrievers don’t understand the concept of relaxing in the water. Ella is only good at capsizing people who are floating, usually in a very wet burst of enthusiastic glory.)

This is an activity that could be family-oriented (then the energy is similar to having a Lab around). Or it could be adult-oriented, with the peaceful bliss that is akin to a spa visit. Your choice.

Of course, you can go wine or beer tasting in the Okanagan. You can get out on the boat or paddle board or kayak if that’s your thing. There is no lack of golf courses here, and more than a few tennis courts too.

But this week I was thinking more of the hedonistic pleasures where the only goal is just the thing itself – no score, no competition with anyone else, no reward but the enjoyment itself. (I’m taking a page from the life of my Labrador, working on the Zen of living in the moment.)

So, get out there and soak in the fun. If you come up with any wonderful moments, I’d love to hear about them if you’re willing to share. And if you’re walking near a balcony, watch out for watermelon seeds.



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The value of time

Summer is here, it’s official.

You might not have danced around a bonfire at midnight to celebrate the solstice, but I’m sure you have felt the itch of summer approaching.

You know that feeling of bliss from the sun and the lake, having cool drinks on the patio?

In Canada, we take special pride in enjoying summer, perhaps because of the ferocity of winter and the general reluctance of spring.

I have heard it said that one of the reasons Canadians make great comedians is because of our extreme climate.

You have to admit, with compatriots like Michael J. Fox, Jim Carrey, Dan Akroyd and Howie Mandel the list is impressive. And that doesn’t even count Red Green; you remember, the fellow who loved duct tape so much? That’s Canadian humour, for sure.

We come from a nation where people will spend their first camping trip in winter garb just to say they made the annual May long weekend trek, and where in years like this one, even planting the garden on that same famous weekend could be treacherous in some parts due to frost and wind.

But here we are, at the solstice and all those frostbitten memories are behind us.

In summer, we are happy to complain about the plethora of dandelions and the sudden heat rash we suffered from the first day out mowing or gardening.

Beverage coolers are dusted off, kiddie pools are seen dotting lawns again, and suddenly the sale of potato chips plummets and fresh veggies are popular as we all try to get back to bathing-suit-friendly shape.

Longer days give us a chance to pack more activities into waking hours, and more sunlight means more time outside, often shared with friends.

 It is not just the better temperatures that make for warmer memories from summers past. There seems to be some midsummer fairy magic that makes those times seem some of the best. Or the longer days may simply offer more opportunities for soaking in the good vibes.

I bet you can relate to these moments:

  • the joy of finding the perfect dandelion seed pod. My mom even figured out that larger pods could be preserved whole if you got them carefully inside and sprayed them with a bit of hairspray. How cheered I was to hear this is still special: one of my Guide leader friends told me that her little son likes to blow the seeds willy-nilly to the wind and then hand her the stem as a gift. I also discovered that despite technology they still thwart the average lawn aficionado – our neighbour was seen last Sunday with the vacuum cleaner under his arm, hose in hand as he tackled each stem!
  • I know this will sound corny, but I love the taste of water from the garden hose. It seems just slightly poetic that we have come around to a time when this might be acceptable again, what with the processing and cost of plastic water bottles. Kids might not walk to school (at least not unescorted) but at least when they play in their own yard they can drink the water.
  • the sound of kids playing is a summer sound, one that continues later at night as that lovely sun lingers on the horizon longer this time of year. I always felt decadent to know that I could stay out for so very long  as summer began; going home at dark when summer started could allow you time for a whole other adventure from the one you had before dinner!
  • There is all kind of wonderful and crazy food at any time of year now, but there is still more variety in summer here than in winter. And even if you don’t care about local versus imported ingredients, you must admit that the colours are brighter in the produce section these days. The taste of a garden carrot just rubbed in the grass and eaten fresh out of the ground is one of those experiences that even a five star restaurant cannot match.

I don’t know if you reminisce about childhood memories from long ago or if you have kids you regale with stories, but if you don’t then I think it is about time you gave it a try.

Here are some things you can do here in our part of the world that will give you an old-fashioned taste of summer…

  • Visit the local farmer’s market for veggies that still have dirt on them
  • Take a trip with your sweetie to Enderby to see a drive-in movie at the Starlight. Did you know it has North America’s largest movie screen?
  • Go for old-fashioned hard ice-cream cones with your kids and sit outside eating them, teaching them about how you have to push the top scoop gently down on the cone so it doesn’t fall off
  • Set up your lawn sprinkler and run through it (this is best done screaming – if the neighbours laugh, invite them over to try it!)
  • Pick a dandelion gone to seed, make a wish, and blow.

If you have kids, this will help show them the value of making those warm memories. If you don’t have kids, it will remind you we are never too late to have a happy childhood.

Time always has value, as long as you stop to notice.



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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