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Happy-Gourmand

Treat yourself with decadent chocolate cherry fudge brownies

The new coffee break

Years ago, I wrote a column about sharing treats at the office. It occurred to me the other day in one of my baking frenzies that in our current world, sharing treats at the office may be a thing of the past.

Did you know – back in the days of regular office work – that if you placed a candy dish at your desk you were more likely to get a promotion? I know, it sounds hokey, but someone really did a study and found that the odds were indeed sweeter for those with sweets.

I think the research behind the candy dish really had more to do with human behaviour. Treats bring people to a common spot and make them gather. In the same way that the kitchen becomes the best place at any house party, even a small token like a dish of candy can be the spark that lights the office fire for kindred spirits. 

My father used to say that an army marches on its stomach, and it is true: you can motivate people with food. It is trickier though when that army has to be motivated one soldier at a time.

We can feel immediately better after having a treat (like a candy from a dish at the office, or a cookie from the jar in the kitchen.)This instant gratification is also why some of us have been known to consume larger than usual quantities of Haagen-Dazs as a remedy for a very bad day – not something we’d generally do at the office. Is this an example of safety in numbers, I wonder?

Do you see what I’m getting at? I don’t know about you, but being at home all the time has been challenging for me some days. I can envision myself on “office time” when I am working at home, but without others around there is no camaraderie involved when I stop to get my coffee or a snack. No water cooler talk, no joking around, no sharing of treats. 

Without the old-fashioned connection of co-workers, we need to up our game. I have a plan. 

To go back to my military analogy, think of yourself as a Navy Seal. You need discipline, focus and dedication to the cause. That means hunkering down to do the job at hand, and then getting a reward worthy of your loyalty. 

So, instead of a trident badge on your uniform, how about a brownie at coffee break time? No Rice Krispie squares for us hard-working operators – we deserve the best. No retreat, no surrender… we go all the way.

I am hoping you are up to the challenge of this added responsibility. I know it is a lot to ask but we’ve been through a lot. You deserve the chance to make the most of this situation. 

Let’s do this!

 

Decadent Chocolate Cherry Fudge Brownies

(Makes one 8-inch square pan)

  • 2/3 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 6 tbsp cocoa powder (if you have it or can find it, use Dutch-process cocoa such as Droeste)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2/3 cup dried cherries, cranberries or your choice of dried fruit – or nuts, if you prefer
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

EXOTIC VERSION (optional – for those who like added excitement)

Add ¼ tsp ground ginger

SUPER EXOTIC VERSION (in case you need extra reinforcements)

1 tbsp instant coffee granules AND 1/4 tsp ground black pepper or ancho chile powder

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Melt the butter and sugar together. Remove from heat. Blend in the cocoa and vanilla, beating till glossy. Stir in the eggs, one at a time. Add the flour, mixing well. Fold in the dried fruit and spices.

Lightly grease an eight-inch square pan. Spread the batter evenly in the pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool before cutting. Cut into triangles (squares first, then cut corner to corner) for an exotic presentation, or simply cut in squares and dust with icing sugar.

TIP: If you do want to share these around, they keep well wrapped in plastic. 

Semper Fi.





Chewing on food nostalgia

I’ve heard the word “unprecedented” so much lately that it is starting to sound like a simple adjective to describe the times, like disco or punk. As we enter the start of summer, many of the usual occasions that foster memories and momentum for the season are not possible. To replace those missing moments, many of us are using throwbacks and retro styling.

Have you noticed how many people are posting old photos, reminiscing about old fashion, and of course watching old TV shows and movies? Even much of the comfort food we’ve been consuming tends to date back to childhood. The memes we see about these stressful times can be funny, but the real fuel we need right now runs deeper; it speaks to our souls.

I am not going to offer any recipes this week; I hear the grumbling. I know that many of you are sick of being home and cooking. Enjoy your time out on the patios, in the restaurants, and picking up your food-to-go for a picnic or dinner on the deck. Please remember, as the old saying goes, “tip your waiter or waitress on the way out.”

Everyone is talking about the Michael Jordan documentary series, “The Last Dance,” right now. With no live sports, I imagine lots of folks are working their way into becoming basketball fans just for the sake of watching some athletic competition. 

I would like to think that there is also an appeal that runs deeper. “Tiger King” was popular in the same way the toilet paper jokes are – suitably bizarre for the times. Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls – another retro reference – represent dreams, a dynasty, and winning, sometimes against the odds. Even superstars lose on occasion, but they always play with commitment. 

Maybe that’s why superhero marathons are playing, too. A reminder that we are all in this together, and that superheroes can hide in the crowd among us and materialize when needed. When I was a kid, having Wheaties for breakfast was considered as increasing one’s potential for greatness, just like the athletes who were on the box. It might still work…

The other point from “The Last Dance” is of course that a team can accomplish more than a single player. It takes time to put a team together so that they all work well and can use their skill sets, but they can achieve greater heights. 

If I relate this to food, I can make an analogy easily. One ingredient does not make a dish. If one dish makes a meal, it is something with many flavours and textures. By the same token, a meal shared around a table is enjoyed on a higher level than a meal we eat alone.

We are all in this together. All of it. Sharing the memories of other times we were together can help us all to hang in there. Taking a break and refueling from those happy moments is a good thing; it lets us catch our breath so we can get a second wind. 

So, have that mac n’ cheese or brownies, share the goodies around. Build new memories for a throwback you can use down the road. We are in this for the long haul. There will be a time when T-shirts with those pandemic memes will be retro. 



How to avoid hearing 'I don't want what she's having'

Keeping everyone happy

The other night Hubby and I were making dinner, and out of the blue we were inspired to switch things up. Not that we don’t eat well; regular readers will know that being married to a chef is a real bonus at dinnertime.

It has been more than 60 days of pandemic life for us – two months of being at home with no work and no visitors. Nobody to cook for but ourselves. We have made all kinds of wonderful meals and treats and tried many new recipes. But the one catch is we are both always eating the same thing.

We were preparing salad for dinner, so it was not complex to vary the so-called recipe and create our own versions. Hubby had his childhood favourite chicken salad with iceberg lettuce, celery, cucumber, and a mayo dressing. I had my cold chicken pieces over a bed of arugula and spinach with some grated carrot, grape tomatoes and cucumber and a balsamic vinaigrette. We were both happy diners.

If you’ve been able to support local restaurants and order take-out, then you’ve likely had the chance to choose your own path. Likewise, if you live alone, this is an advantage you may not have recognized. If you’re like us, and every meal has been the same for everyone – yet you’ve secretly hankered for a bit of something unique – then I’m happy to share our ideas for maintaining household sanity and good humour.

It works for us with these simple suggestions:

  1. Choose salad as the main course for the evening but set it up as a salad bar and let people choose what they want. To save on waste, don’t chop or grate veggies ahead of time as they don’t keep as well that way. Each diner can prep their own ingredients. Have a few dressings pulled out of the fridge or make your own if you’re feeling creative. TIP: remember to include leftovers as ingredients – chopped meat or fish and roasted veggies are fun additions.
  2. On a day off, prepare a few meals in bulk and then portion them out in fridge/freezer containers. Individuals can choose their own, so if you feel like lasagne tonight but your housemate wants the chili – no problem. TIP: this is a good way to engage everyone. Get each person to cook a meal they want. Kids can help, too, even if just with menu ideas. Here’s a few to get you going
  3. Customize dinner on the fly – sheet pan meals allow for a bit of variation by using all the room on the pan. Cook dark and light meat chicken, for example, or a few different roasted veggies to match each person’s taste. TIP: You can also combine the salad idea with a sheet pan main dish for a bigger meal or larger group (for those with a bigger “bubble”).

I hope that helps. I know it is getting tougher, with the continued uncertainty in the world about so many things and the general lack of hugs. My theory is that if we can keep the stress out of the kitchen then it will be a haven that helps us all keep our sanity. The good vibes will be like vitamins that foster more smiles and kindness. 

Let’s bake a bit of that into the new normal.



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Taking solace: pause, reflect

I suppose the title sounds rather melancholy. I am feeling that way lately. Certainly, we are very fortunate to be in a place where the pandemic has not struck hard; in B.C. the curve has been flattened and here in the Okanagan we have only had a few small outbreaks of coronavirus. Canada is a country that has many levels of support and infrastructure to help keep us safe and healthy. I am grateful.

I am also saddened by the loss of a livelihood for hubby and me, and by the isolation needed to keep us safe. The irony is not lost on either of us that here we are with all this free time and summer coming, and yet we can’t go anywhere or visit anyone. 

Events are not happening for the most part this season – all the clients have rebooked for next year since guests can’t travel and some are vulnerable. Group pictures become hard to do when incorporating social distancing, and passing appetizers is impossible.

It is important to take solace in what we have. Every little moment from walking the dog to seeing a new blossom or shoot in our yard have been cause for celebration. Having virtual happy hour with friends and Zoom coffee dates with family and loved ones around the world does much to lift our spirits. 

We have taken advantage of the time to prepare a wonderful edible garden for this year, and to do some small (read affordable) fix-it jobs around the house. I am taking courses on bread baking and learning more about edible plants and their history. Hubby is working on his online presence for future. 

With the next phase of our reality, unfolding in the next few weeks, I intend to pause and reflect on how fortunate we are before I make any changes right away. Perhaps I’ve seen too many sci-fi movies, but I am not all that keen to find out we slid back down that curve because we got too excited too fast. 

That’s just me. I’m older, I’m self-employed and I have an autoimmune disease as well. I don’t expect everyone will follow my example or even understand it. I am just hoping that we can all respect each other’s positions as things open up and we have to be around each other with our own different comfort levels. 

The social experiment on which we are embarking is going to require all our patience, consideration and generosity of spirit to make it not only successful but pleasant. If ever there was a time to pause and reflect – take a breath and think before you act – it is now.

The timing at least is good. Mother’s Day is upon us, and what better example than the many women role models who exemplify calm strength (often in times of stress), and deep love (even in moments when people may not behave toward them in a loving fashion). We can pause and reflect on how best to show them we can follow in their footsteps.

Canadians are known for being polite and considerate, kind and easygoing. We generally look out for each other and have a strong sense of community. Let’s all remember that if we head out to shop or eat or gather with a group.

Please, be polite and considerate to all those working in this new world. Be kind to others around you and easygoing about their differences. Watch over others and remember we are all in this together. 

We can take solace in knowing our community has gotten a good start on this pandemic. We can also pause and reflect, being grateful for what we have and not taking it for granted.



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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