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Happy-Gourmand

The taste of thanks

With the American Thanksgiving holiday this week, the holiday season officially begins.

If you’ve been bah-humbugging your way through till now, it’s about to get harder. I’m here to tell you the best thing is just to embrace it. 

Much like sitting around the holiday table with family members can sometimes be a trying time or eating the Brussels sprouts might not be your favourite thing, we need to see the glass as having something in it, even if it’s half empty. 

Looking through the negative aspects of the world and seeing what is positive is what truly makes us grateful. (Kind of like focusing on the delicious gravy that gets into those nasty Brussels sprouts.)

Anyone can do this. Ask a child, they’ll tell you. Being kind is a good place to start. Paying it forward works too. Kids will share toys, and snacks, and even hugs in many cases, without a second thought.

We big kids need to remember it’s that easy. (As a side note, if we teach kids that there is a positive side to the Brussels sprouts, that helps them to be better eaters.)

We can’t save the whole world single-handedly. But every bit we each do makes a difference. And I’m not just being altruistic here, alluding to how good others will feel. 

Research has repeatedly shown that when we show our gratitude in our actions, it affects our brain; our levels of feel-good chemicals such as dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin increase, making us feel more connected to others and happier in general.

This happy circle will perpetuate itself if we train our brains to focus on the positive instead of the negative. We have that survival instinct that makes us notice negative things more easily (as in threats to us or our environment).

Since the idea is to be not only alive in the face of a complex world but also happy, focusing on positive experiences is the key. 

Focusing on something positive for a mere 20 seconds is enough to get our brain in gear. (That’s only two Brussels sprouts worth of chewing.) Those happy-making chemicals will begin to flow after that time.

The next step is to continue this approach on a consistent basis so we make it a habit.

The good news from the Brussels sprouts perspective is that our brain enjoys versatility and novelty. So no, you don’t have to keep eating just sprouts. Or maybe next time cook them with bacon. Try all kinds of new things, new combinations. 

I will add here that our taste buds grow throughout our life, our palates are continuously evolving. New food experiences can make us happy too, when we discover new foods we enjoy.

The holiday season can be stressful, with all the expectations and that looming deadline. Here is a way we can re-focus our efforts and enjoy the anticipation of it all. 

Just as I always suggest you slow down to savour your meals, taking in the flavours, smells and the company, I’m offering that counsel for the season in general.

Gratitude is a tasty undertaking, and you can indulge as much as you like without it affecting your figure.



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It's the little things

We are back now from our adventures, enjoying the comforts of home.

It is true that one appreciates things more after an absence; drinking water from the tap and sleeping in my own bed are activities I particularly enjoy these days.

I am happy having been reminded that every day things are important. 

Travelling is wonderful for broadening one’s mind. We see parts of the world different from our usual routine, and hopefully we open our eyes and ears to understand how other people appreciate the world.

Amidst the vast differences we might experience are tucked tiny memories of moments we cherish – like my first taste of baobab juice, or when my Hubby re-proposed to me under the stars in the desert. 

Food is a big part of every-day life, and exotic flavours are exciting. Back at home, I am reminded though of the importance of less notable things.

We are packing up the last of the herbs and vegetables from the garden and it occurred to me that the strongest plants, the most common, are the ones we most take for granted. 

I dug out the carrots from the garden, and we had some that evening in a salad. Such a humble vegetable and yet the flavour of it in a November salad was incredibly decadent. 

We have volunteer parsley that grows every year better than the grass. It has a wonderful fresh flavour — puréed with olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper, it makes a delicious paste that livens up our meals all winter.

Everything from garlic bread and pasta to soup or stew gains extra pizzazz from this little herb that is often seen as just a garnish. 

My favourite “little thing” in the garden is celery. Full disclosure: I don’t grow heads of celery; with the intense heat we get and the water it needs, I have no luck with it.

Instead, I have seasoning celery, which is more of an herb than a vegetable. It packs a punch of flavour into any sauce, salad and works wonders in stuffing or omelettes.

Did you know that celery was once regarded as a status vegetable? Dutch immigrants brought seeds with them to America and, before long, it went from local markets to crossing the nation.

In the late 19th century, raw stalks were displayed as a popular centrepiece; there was even such a thing as a celery vase. Celery soup was all the rage, and, in 1947, braised celery was included on a White House Thanksgiving menu. 

Nowadays, celery has become commonplace and is seen more as an accompaniment to chicken wings or your children’s lunch.

But its fresh tangy flavour and signature crunch would be sadly missed if it was omitted in turkey stuffing, Waldorf salad or the many soups and stews that contain the holy trinity of “mire poix," the traditional French base of carrots, celery and onion.

Perhaps that is why our consumption of it rises by over 500% in November and December.

My newly refreshed gratitude of those things we take for granted has me loving celery again, just like I love the tap water, and the sight of the stars in the sky.

It is the little things that make up life, that form the fabric of our memories. Even on big days — or big trips — the moments I will remember are those that sandwiched between breakfast and lunch or peaking through the covers at dawn or twilight.



The beat of Africa

The last week of our epic holiday was spent on the coast in Senegal.

A girlfriend I’ve known my entire adult life is living in Dakar, and the chance to catch up with her was the original impetus for our trip. 

Senegal is a vibrant country, considered by most to be the economic centre of West Africa. It is an independent nation, but its history as a French republic left behind the language and a penchant for croissants and coffee. The capital city, Dakar, was our base while we were there. 

If you know anything about Senegal it could well be the music. Artists such as Youssou N’Dour brought the country attention here in North America with the traditional “mbalax” beat that was catchy and very danceable, if unusual.

I found there was much about the country that gave me the same impression: 

  • the colourful and intricately patterned fabrics the women dress in 
  • the unusual taste combinations in food, from hot chiles to cloves to tropical fruits
  • the frenetic nature of the city with its winding streets full of cars, donkey carts and commuter buses… and a few goats or cows wandering around for good measure

Our friends have a beautiful place right at the ocean in Dakar – our room had a view of the waves crashing into shore, with the lights of far-off container ships often twinkling in the night.

It was a beautiful oasis, the perfect grand finale for our voyage. 

We ate many of our meals at the house, out on the veranda where the wind helped cool us a bit, as the temperatures stayed warm, even into the night.

Breakfast was croissants and pain au chocolat with coffee or tea, as the pastries here are not to be missed. The local papaya was also delicious, as were the bananas (much more flavourful than what we are used to, as they are a different variety).

I was also keen to try Café Touba, a local coffee flavoured with cloves; it is served black and has a woodsy, heart-warming character, I thought. 

Lunch is the biggest meal here, with chicken or fish being the usual features. (Being a Muslim country, pork is rare here, and once you’ve seen an African cow, you can understand why the beef dishes are always a sort of stew.)

Everything is served with couscous or a short-grain rice. 

One day, we had a delicious sea bream in a ginger cream sauce. Ginger is used often here, even as a juice to drink.

I was amazed that it was so popular, but Dakar’s history as a popular trading port going back to the days of the spice and then slave trade meant that many different ingredients became part of the usual supply.

Portugal, Britain, France and the Netherlands all competed to control the trade here. 

Another delicious meal was Chicken Yassa, a traditional Senegalese favourite – chicken cooked in a tangy onion sauce.

My hubby wondered if perhaps there was some connection here with a traditional French dish, as the sauce tastes much like a more concentrated version of French onion soup.

It is also delicious with fish, and easy to make

I think my favourite taste from Senegal though, was “bouye,” juice made from the fruit of the baobab tree (also called monkey bread fruit). It is a pale pink colour, and quite thick – like a smoothie with bananas in it – and it tastes a bit like guava, banana and passion fruit all blended in one glass.

It is rich in vitamins and nutrients; the locals say it will cure anything from a fever to dysentery. I just found it made me smile.

Of note though: if you ever come across one of these fruits, be careful of the fuzzy skin as it makes you itch terribly.

Senegal was a place that truly was another world, apart from what is usual for us. I was glad that we had a chance to glimpse at least a bit of it, as it provided a chance to understand how different the world can be.

This was the perfect end to our epic holiday, sampling a taste of another continent with great friends and sharing memories that will last across the miles. 



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Yes, we have no canaries

Having had a good dose of North Africa, we had a change of pace this past week.

We left Morocco and headed to the next leg of our journey: the Canary Islands.

Here was a chance for us to do some scuba diving, and have a bit of European beach holiday before we experienced West Africa. 

The Canaries are a group of subtropical islands in the Atlantic, off the coast of Morocco’s southern border with Western Sahara.

They are considered an autonomous community of Spain, so they are a part of the European Union. Euros are the currency and the food and drink are a blend of European flavours. 

A bit of trivia I bet you didn’t know: although they say there is the odd canary flying around (I never saw any), the islands’ name comes from the Latin “Canarias” meaning “dog”, after a fierce native dog.

This handsome canine is on their coat of arms. 

We expected to see numerous tapas bars on Gran Canaria — lots of fresh fish and funky little cafes and bars along the beach.

There was some of that, but this is a place very popular and relatively easy to reach for many Europeans, so it was even more touristy than we thought.

Thankfully, we were fortunate to be there in the shoulder season. 

I was surprised to discover that Maspalomas, the southern community on Gran Canaria, is akin to a beach town in say, Florida: along the seaside promenade there are rows of tourist shops.

These places full of trinkets are sprinkled between plenty of bars serving drinks with umbrellas and blasting various types of music, and restaurants all advertising a menu featuring everything from pizza to steak and frites to calamari.

Hubby and I like to have some kind of local flavour so getting off the beaten path was important for us. We asked our dive masters where they ate and got a great recommendation for a tapas bar called Pica Pica.

We looked for seasonal, local ingredients and found a place that served roasted Iberico pig with an array of homemade sauces. And, of course, we looked for the markets and the grocery stores to see what was fresh and what locals were buying. 

Citrus fruits are in abundance here; lemons and oranges grow locally. So do figs and dates, which are in season now. There is quite a bit of local cheese from cows, sheep and goats, some of it softer and some aged, so there is a variety of flavours and textures.

Tomatoes grow locally, and are prevalent in many sauces. Potatoes are also local, and a dish called Canarian potatoes is on almost every menu. 

We weren’t interested in eating at a steakhouse while on an island, although this is a popular Spanish theme. But the potatoes we did eat, with pickled anchovies, grilled sardines and grilled cuttlefish. 

The traditional method the Conquistadors used when they first brought potatoes to the island was to boil them in sea water, but you can use salted water at home. Serve them with the “mojo picon” sauce and you’ll see what the fuss is about. 

My favourite meal of the week was “gambas” we cooked at our rental apartment. We paid 10 € for a kilo and they were huge. The local white wine we enjoyed with them was only 5 €. 

Our best times on Gran Canaria were away from the crowds, but the challenge of finding local “holes in the wall” was part of the fun.

Being able to taste the salt water and see the sea life in the morning and talk to the fishermen in the afternoon was a treat. 

To then sample fresh seafood with local wine in the evening, on our little balcony under the moonlight, that’s  what made our visit so memorable.



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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