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Happy-Gourmand

Do classics ever change?

With the news this week of the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral, I was awash with memories and nostalgia. A sadness overtook me.

“Such a shame, that future generations won’t be able to see this classic historical place,” I thought.

It occurred to me that having food as a passion saves me that sorrow, as one has only to make a dish to recreate the magic. (Hence my associated passion with heirloom seeds and passing on traditional recipes.)

But then I was reminded, even a classic can be altered and still be considered worthy of the title.

The other piece of news I found interesting this past week was the release of the latest postage stamp series in Canada.

It’s called Sweet Canada; it features five classic Canadian desserts. Well, you can imagine my delight at such a tribute.

One of the desserts was one of my favourites: butter tarts.

Well, herein lies the rub: butter tarts are a classic as much for their controversial ingredients as their presence at the table.

Should they have corn syrup, or not? The oldest recipes have only vinegar along with the butter, brown sugar and eggs, but many cooks say they gained popularity when the corn syrup was added, giving a better texture (so they say — I’m in the old-fashioned “vinegar only” camp.

If you’d like to try my recipe, here it is.

The list goes on. Currants? Absolutely not, say some; of course, say others.

Raisins are generally agreed as not being an original ingredient but are not without their fans. The same goes for adding nuts to the filling.

The only thing that is agreed upon among butter tart bakers is that one must use a homemade pastry.

Although the butter tart recipe was first recorded in Ontario, this is a Prairie classic, too. Butter tarts are baked and eaten across our great country.

There is some speculation that butter tarts could have been a derivative of the famed “tarte au sucre” (sugar pie) from Quebec.

This classic was said to be an adaptation made by bakers who emigrated from France and wanted to recreate a rich dessert with the ingredients at hand. (And, by the way, it’s another one of the desserts featured in the stamp collection.)

How about that for a classic? You could have a revolt if you tried to legislate a single way to make the butter tart.

I revised my thinking about Notre Dame Cathedral accordingly once I digested all this news. After all, the spire that was destroyed in the fire was not part of the original Medieval design; it was added in the 19th century.

It was part of what I knew as the classic landmark, but not always.

I heard an interview on CBC radio with a Medieval expert who defended the idea of maintaining classic historical structures, reminding the audience that they could not possibly be static, but rather had to be adapted over the centuries if they were to survive, both structurally and culturally.

This weekend is an important religious holiday for many, being both Passover and Easter this year.

There are a multitude of traditions that exist, and all of them are important. They are important for the people who follow them, keeping them alive through generations and adding them to their family’s stories.

They are just as important to our larger cultures, for they make up many of the threads that weave our societies into a cohesive and comforting whole.

I am not a religious person per se, but I remember an Easter service at St. Peter’s Square where I was overcome with a wondrous love for humanity (all 200,000 of them sharing the square with me, including the nuns from New York with whom I shared lunch.)

The week after that, I got to show my Mom the beauty of Notre Dame. I’ll never forget the sparkle in her eyes as she turned around to see the majestic buttresses and bell towers watching over the Seine.

I know she shares my sadness, knowing it won’t look the same. But she is a wise student of history. I bet she is already imagining what wonderful changes they will bring to it as they rebuild.

I also cherish the Easter hunts my brother and I had, and I like to think I haven’t lost the spark of childhood. I may have had a part in distributing some of the wealth a certain long-eared fellow might have passed along at Rabbit Hollow.

After all, spring is for smiles and laughter and hugs – all good things to share.

Wishing you and yours peace and happiness this week, as you spend time keeping your classics alive.



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Live long and prosper

Every day, we are constantly being pushed and pulled by influences in our lives… and all those influences change how our lives go and how long they last.

Only 20-30% of our longevity is attributed to genetics, so our day-to-day life makes up the rest.

The places in the world where people live the longest are documented. They are referred to as Blue Zones, a term coined by Dan Buettner, the author and researcher who discovered these locales:

  • Sardinia, off the coast of Italy, and Icaria, Greece, are both Mediterranean cultures where the diet offers a plethora of fresh vegetables, olive oil and red wine.
  • Okinawa, Japan, is also a place where the diet has many plant-based items, and residents are known to meditate often and have a positive outlook.
  • The Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica is another community that eats a low-fat diet largely plant-based. Many of the residents say they didn’t plan to live so long, but they are grateful. Most of them work into their 70s, having done something they loved.
  • Loma Linda, CA., is a small tight-knit community of Seventh-day Adventists who are vegetarian.

The quality of life you have is not only about where in the world you live, but how you live.

If you “super-size” your meals too often, it will shorten your life.

If you eat lots of fresh veggies and whole grains, you will live longer.

They tell us we need more exercise; don’t go to the drive-through, get out of your car and walk in.

Of course, the worst thing of all to shorten your life is stress. Studies show the only way you can undo the damage stress causes is to unwind.

hat advice seems like an infernal loop though; here in North America we unwind with food and drink. I envision lab rats in the studies with their feet up, eating mini tubs of Haagen Dazs.

I hope they would have eaten veggies for lunch.

My stress comes from work. Both my chef hubby and I work hard in the tourist season, and we rely on each other to maintain some kind of balance and retain a positive attitude.

The same sense of community exists in all the Blue Zones.

I enjoy the “therapy” of de-stressing with my kitchen gadgets and recipe books, and when hubby isn’t too hungry, he doesn’t mind waiting a bit longer as his wife putzes around to create a meal.

If we can find friends who are free, we will have them over. After all, there is nothing like time around the dining room table to bring people down to earth and make them smile.

Good food and good vibes are the best tonics for a long and happy life.

That age-old concept of balancing the priorities in one’s life is one that never stops being important. If you want to see where you’re at in your life span, check out the Blue Zones website that explains in detail the research done over the years

Their Vitality Compass test may look like just a publicity stunt, but it is based in statistics and algorithms.

I can’t really say “take it with a grain of salt” as salt is something that can shorten your life if you over-consume, but well, you know what I mean.

Considering less stress and more exercise in your life is good, but nobody is saying you have to swear off the occasional tub of Haagen Dazs.

Just make sure you find other things besides food that make you happy.



Sharing time in a cup

I often speak of the value of a meal in bringing people together, but sometimes all it takes is a beverage.

In the progression of a relationship there are usually dates to meet for a drink before anyone commits to sharing a meal.

Did you know that certain beverages have had a part in shaping world history, not just our own circle of friends?

In 2005, Tom Standage published a book called The History of the World in Six Glasses.

He documented the connection that certain beverages have had to the evolution of our societies, and how they have helped us to share knowledge and kinship, inspire revolutions and foreign policy, and even symbolize globalization.

I’m not going to repeat Mr. Standage’s work, but a few intriguing points are certainly worth repeating. Did you know:

  • Beer was not invented but rather discovered in ancient Mesopotamia (circa 10,000 BCE) after people tasted gruel a few days old. The sweeter taste of the malted grain and the natural fermentation that produced alcohol was found to be a pleasant drink. This was before individual cups had been created, so it was generally shared from a communal vessel, with each person using a straw.
  • Wine was popularized by the ancient Greeks and Romans, who carried it through their empires as they invaded new territory. To this day, the popularity of wine echoes these travels; Northern Europeans generally still prefer beer. If you follow the Greek tradition though, you would never drink your wine without adding at least a bit of water – the usual ratio was one quarter to one half water to wine.
  • Spirits were invented by the Arabs, by far the most advanced community in the first millennium. They developed algebra and the modern number system, pioneered the use of anesthetics, and refined the art of distillation. Distillation allowed for a more durable and compact (as in stronger) form of alcohol, handy on seafaring voyages not just for practicality, but also as an instrument of international trade. The taxation of spirits and their economic significance are still of political importance today.
  • Coffee was also discovered in the Arab world, and its stimulating effect was a subject of debate there through the 1500s. Coffee houses of the 17th century provided a sober alternative and a safe drink in a time when alcohol or drinks with boiled water were recommended in cities with open sewers. For intellectuals and scientists, this was a time of enlightenment (known still as The Age of Reason), so a beverage that promoted a sharp mind and clear thought was encouraged. Coffee houses even then were centres for the sharing of news, and gossip.
  • Tea is a drink associated with empires: first, China and then, Britain. But is a drink for the people. Where coffee houses were strictly for men, women were allowed to buy tea at the counter in Thomas Twining’s tea house in 1717, and tea gardens in England were a place where young men and women could meet. The antibacterial properties in tea also made people healthier; waterborne diseases such as dysentery declined in the 1700s as people consumed more tea.
  • Coca-Cola is the drink that symbolizes more than any other the rise of American culture and its ability to mass produce items and distribute them without worry of regional tastes or preferences. Originally, Coca-Cola was a company that supplied not a full bottled drink, but only the syrup – known originally for the invigorating and supposed medicinal benefits of its two main ingredients: coca leaves and cola nuts. A court case in 1911 complained that the caffeine in Coke was a dangerous ingredient and shouldn’t be marketed to children; they lost, the judge citing that the caffeine was noted in an original ingredient, the cola nut.

Human civilization has been attracted to stimulating beverages from the very beginning. We are drawn together to share a safe space and to discuss ideas. Our societies have made great advances over the last few thousand years, often in the spaces where these beverages were consumed.

The tradition of raising one’s glass and clinking it with others in a toast is said to symbolize the reconnection of those drinks to a single vessel, bringing us together in the same way the ancient Mesopotamians shared their beer with straws.

This kind of sharing is even more egalitarian than the sharing of food; one cut of meat can be regarded as better than another, and one scoop of stew or soup may have more morsels than another.

So, toast your good health with friends this week, or find a new friend at your favourite watering hole. Consider it doing your part to advance humankind. Cheers!



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What's in your fridge?

In the spirit of spring cleaning, I thought I’d dedicate a column to those ubiquitous jars that line our fridge doors.

As a foodie, I will humbly admit I have a weakness for condiments. I love all kinds of pickles, jams, chutneys, sauces – the list is endless. The problem is, it can be hard to use up an entire jar.

As a result of my fetish to taste so many flavours, I end up with orphan jars that languish in my fridge. With this week’s column, I’m offering ways to finally finish them.

We will find uses for the homemade gifts, the extra dressing you bought for that one dinner party, and the four different pickles you couldn’t resist at that fun Italian deli (OK, the last one was really me, not you…)

HOT SAUCES

These are notorious fridge-door residents. A bottle of hot sauce will last a long time in your fridge but don’t try to set new records and keep it forever. The best approach is to limit the number of bottles you have open.

One hot sauce can be used for anything from hot wings to Caesar salad dressing, from chip dip to Caesar cocktails. Once you know how hot your current sauce is, you just temper the amount you use accordingly.

DRESSINGS

My best piece of advice is think homemade before you buy. It’s much easier to make a salad dressing with ingredients you have rather than having a full bottle of something you may not ever finish.

If you do want to buy prepared dressing, remember these can double as marinades and stir fry sauces. Use them for Buddha bowls with rice and legumes too, not just with green salads.

JAMS, SWEET SPREADS

They’re not just for toast any more. Think cheese platters, filling for cake or cupcakes, even homemade parfaits, like single-portion trifle. Add some Dijon mustard or hot sauce and thin with vinegar if needed, and you have a sweet-hot condiment that might be perfect for a pork sandwich or stir fry.

CHUTNEYS, SPICY SPREADS

These are great with meats (hot or cold) but they also add some zip to dips made with yogurt or sour cream. As above, they can be thinned with vinegar and used for a finishing sauce for stirfry or roasted meat. (Don’t add them until the last moment, or the sugar in the condiment will burn with heat.)

PICKLED/MARINATED VEGGIES

Dill pickles have plenty of competition in today’s world, but they aren’t just for keeping a burger company. Try pickled veggies chopped in a Buddha bowl or a wrap or added to a salad for extra tang.

They can jazz up rice or grains served hot as well, added just before serving. And lastly, they can stand alone, but think of putting them out anytime you have sandwiches, burgers, hotdogs,…

If you find your stock of half-consumed items is growing as opposed to diminishing, a good tip is to put a list of what needs to be eaten on the front of the fridge.

(This works very well for people who have an extra fridge with leftovers or large supplies of ingredients, too; consolidate your thinking by listing items on the main fridge.)

Minimize your waste and make meal planning easier by getting inspiration from what you have.

On a safety note, if you are reheating leftovers (whether using a condiment or not) please be “food safe” and make sure the internal reheated temperature is 165F/74C. Especially when using a microwave, you run the risk of the food not being warm enough to kill the bacteria that is lying in wait at fridge temperature.

Get yourself a thermometer and keep everyone healthy.

When all else fails in the struggle to keep your fridge from being overloaded, try a picnic. Even in the dead of winter a table spread with an assortment of meat and/or fish, cheese, crudités (the fancy picnic word for veggie sticks) and condiments is a brilliant way to clean those shelves.

You might even use up a box of crackers too. And don’t forget to check the cellar for a bottle of wine that needs drinking.

Happy munching.



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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