How to Zoom for fun

There has been lots of talk of Zoom fatigue lately.

The extra attention it takes to try to read people or react to them with the digital lag and the limited view of a Zoom window is all wearing us down, and we are longing for a more regular kind of interaction.

I know that what we are craving is a totally real experience, but while we get through this next bit of coasting in a virtual world, I do have a more engaging and fun way to use Zoom.

In a Zoom meeting, you are generally stuck sitting in one spot and usually your video participation is a required part of your participation.

The stress of having to be “on” is much of how people are getting burned out with the format. But if you participate in a Zoom cooking class, the standards are different.

Sign up for a cooking class online and the focus is on the instructor. You are welcome to display your video feed and show off your kitchen if you like, but it’s not required.

You might be able to speak to the instructor or just use the text chat box if you have questions, so your engagement is voluntary. You might also want to show off your appliances and your new apron, or perhaps you just want to focus on getting the job done.

The aim here is to learn a new skill or recipe(s), so doing prep work is my biggest recommendation.

Pre-measuring ingredients into bowls and ensuring your tools are handy means you aren’t searching as the instructor is showing crucial steps in the cooking process. Read through any instructions given so that you can have questions ready, too.

The fun part here is multi-faceted:

  • You are standing and moving instead of sitting down – this is an active meeting.
  • You are learning something new that you will be able to repeat in the future.
  • There are numerous options - different levels of expertise and detail, different time commitments and different prices (starting at free).
  • You get a tangible result at the end of the session. It’s an edible version of instant gratification.

These do require some social media involvement, as you find out about the classes through the chef’s promotions of them. I offer a few of the ones I have tried as a starting reference for you. Not all of them are on Zoom, but they are all on screen.

On Instagram, you can find all kinds of free baking and cooking tutorials through IGTV. You can watch them live if you wish, but they are generally recorded for later viewing on the account IGTV feed (choose the TV screen logo in search or in an account profile page).

Ones I have enjoyed:

  • Bread Ahead Bakery (U.K.)– sweet and savoury goodies with fun instructors
  • Food 52 (U.S.) – everything from tips to full videos, with a wide range of foods
  • Chestnut Bakery (U.K.) – these guys did vegan baking recipes in January
  • Cooking Buddies Club (U.K.) – Jamie Oliver’s son, Buddy, started cooking videos for kids, and now it’s taken off. Check this out if you want to engage the young cooks in your house.

On Facebook, there is a wonderful homespun success in the Maritimes you can enjoy on Sundays (or view later) – Tunes and Wooden Spoons.

Mary Janet MacDonald started broadcasting when one of her daughters suggested she share her beloved cinnamon roll recipe one Sunday during lockdown. She now goes live every Sunday with a new recipe.

On Youtube there is a plethora of cooking videos. These don’t offer as much engagement – you can’t ask questions – and the format is generally more formal, although some are entertaining in their sarcasm. You can search any recipe or type of food. If you’re still interested in mastering sourdough, try Foodbod Sourdough's videos.

If you want to delve deeper and spend a bit of money, then you get a bit more of an intimate experience. Look for a chef or instructor whose style makes you comfortable.

Here are a few I have enjoyed:

  • Bread Ahead Bakery (www.breadahead.com) – they do Zoom baking classes (their doughnuts are amazing, but not something I would have made on my own. Details are on their website. NOTE: they are on GMT, London time.
  • NOCHI (www.nochi.org ) – The New Orleans Culinary and Hospitality Institute offers classes with recipes more common to the south. Some ingredients may be harder to find, but you can choose accordingly.
  • Private chefs – many are offering their services online, often for private bookings of groups. Gather your friends or family and tune in at the same time to cook together on screen. It’s the new way of making Sunday dinner work with social distancing. My hubby, The Chef, (lwww.facebook.com/thechefinstead), instead has done a few of these with dinner-and-dessert themes and everyone had a great time.
  • Soup Sisters Virtual Pot (https://lp.constantcontactpages.com/cu/HtP9IMR) — is doing their fundraising online by connecting with chefs who are hosting classes on soup. For every sign-up, Soup Sisters will deliver soup to local shelters.

Julia Child offered her practical wisdom about the current state of meetings causing us burnout. I think we should take her advice to heart:

  • “A party without cake is just a meeting.”

It’s time for more cake.


Speaking a food language

Have you ever heard of culinary grammar?

You know what grammar is with words – “it is the study of the classes of words, their inflections, and their functions and relations in the sentence. It is also a study of what is to be preferred and what avoided in inflection and syntax.”

If we apply the same principles to food and our treatment of it, we get culinary grammar.

I don’t want to get into cultural appropriation here, but rather simply open our eyes to the concept that each culture has its preferences and traditions for how food is prepared, served, and eaten.

Did you know that if you ordered a samosa as an appetizer in India it could be compared to having a sandwich as an appetizer in Britain? Samosas are a street food in India, harkening back to their origins not there, but rather in the Middle East. They were a common snack for travelling merchants in Persia.

In Italy, having a pasta dish with meat or fish is combining two dinner courses into one. That North American classic, spaghetti and meatballs, is like a translation that was mixed up.

It has been adopted into a new food culture in the same way a new sort of slang is developed with words.

Food grammar speaks to the presentation of the meal and the setting as well. Whether we sit or stand to eat, use a knife and fork or chopsticks or our hands, or how we are expected to show gratitude for a meal… all these things are part of what is appropriate. And yet, adaptations are made once we blend people from different backgrounds.

  • Fortune cookies at Asian restaurants were made in part to satisfy a North American desire for dessert after the meal.
  • Mulligatawny soup was created in India for the British colonials who missed having soup.
  • Many Thai restaurants in western locales supply chopsticks for diners, despite the traditional Thai utensils being a knife and fork.

Culinary grammar can even go as deep as classifying what is considered as food, or at least culturally appropriate food. While rabbit is considered acceptable in France, it is less so in England. Insects are food in parts of Africa, but not so much in Europe.

Breakfast cereal with cold milk is ubiquitous for children in North America, Britain or Down Under; it is almost unheard of for children anywhere else.

Are you culinarily bilingual? It can be disastrous to try and change dishes from a cuisine if one is unfamiliar with the culture as a whole – just like it’s harder to enjoy a trip somewhere if you don’t speak the language. But if you do understand both cultures, then you may create new experiences that bridge the distance between two worlds and connect them in a new way.

I think this is what “fusion cuisine” could be, at its best. Just as language evolves with new words and expanded meanings, so can our tastes and palates evolve with new experiences shared across the table.

I will be posting some international recipes on my blog and Facebook page in the coming week, and I would love to hear from readers if anyone wants to share a favourite bit of food grammar they know.

Here’s to broadening our taste horizons.

Recipes that give pure Joy

I scroll the internet daily for research, and often it is for food.

As a gourmand, I am interested in cultural articles as well as recipes and restaurant news, but of course it is far too easy to fall down the rabbit hole of doom and gloom that fills much of the ether these days.

I admit that prepping a newly discovered recipe or trying out a new bread scoring pattern with the help of an online video are both positive experiences.

I don’t get to do these things every day, though. I do seem to discover the doom and gloom everyday. It’s insidious, isn’t it?

Surely, I cannot be the only person feeling the need for a bit of good old-fashioned escape? In hopes that I am not, I decided this week’s column would offer a few fun recipes as alternatives to the usual slide into oblivion that leaves us feeling sad, tired, and depleted – some days even totally defeated, am I right?

Some may say this is pulling the wool over our eyes, to ignore the real world. My eyes need a break now and then, and the world is plenty real, so how about a bit of suspended reality?

To start, I am going with the oldest recipe I know – one of my mom’s childhood mantras. “There isn’t much a cookie can’t cure” (said of course as she handed you one).

My latest addition to the favourites in my list is a gingerbread cookie that hides its healthiness under the guise of an unctuous texture and exciting spices. No guilt here, just happy indulgence.

Next, another old standby, using recipe as a broad term here — watch a good movie with a big bowl of popcorn. (If you are more of a licorice, M&M’s or SourPatch person, that’s cool too — no judgment.)

One caveat: the movie for this purpose must be something upbeat, ideally with an ending that has at least a glimmer of hope. I like classics for these moments; an animated Disney film never fails to amuse.

I am partial to Ratatouille, of course, and Finding Nemo, but there are many delightful choices.

Another great option is to read a book, or a magazine. The audible option is also something to consider if you like to knit or stitch as you listen. Just like with movies, look for something to delight you.

A few of my all-time favourites

  • Tom Hanks’ collection of short stories, Uncommon Type
  • Richard Bach’s The Illusions of a Reluctant Messiah
  • Tom Robbins’ Still Life with Woodpecker.

I’m going back to actual food recipes for this option, and it’s a toss-up between two ideas. Depending on your tendencies, or your schedule perhaps, take time to prepare and enjoy a homemade brunch or dessert.

Brunch works for those who like savoury flavours – buttermilk biscuits or pecan waffles will light up your day for sure.

For dessert I like to go chocolate with a two in one dessert called pudding cake but fruit crisp is a lovely way to rekindle warm thoughts of the summer season. (It can also do double-duty as breakfast the next day – wink wink.)

All these suggestions are my personal successes; I realize that for many others they might not strike the chord you want to reduce stress. This last idea will work for most people though, I believe. It works on the premise that an average person scrolls through over 27 metres of negative news.

Doomscrolling and doomsurfing are new words describing the tendency.

I am proud to say that the country of my ancestors, Iceland, has created a more attractive alternative to doomscrolling. Joyscroll offers the same distance in scrollable images, sounds, and stories that are uplifting, encouraging, sometimes even funny, and beautiful.

As a last note, if you are one of those people who cannot put up with any more enforced positivity and you just want to vent, the same team of creative folks has got you covered.

You can record a cathartic scream and the Icelandic Tourism Board will release it in one of Iceland’s wide-open spaces.

I would hope that if you do find joy in any of these suggestions, you will share that joy with someone else to spread it around. Feel free to share food safely, too. Just maybe not the screams.


Healthy comfort food? Yes!

It’s February. The weather is mostly grey and wet.

There is no chance for any kind of bikini getaway, so we are stuck wearing the same winter clothes, or staying in and hoping NetFlix releases something amazing soon, because we watched everything they have so far.

Thankfully, the Canadian groundhogs were not scared off by their shadows, so that bodes well for the weather – if you believe in rodent prognosticators.

February does only have 28 days… but then there is March to get through before we get those cute pastel Easter colours and fuzzy bunnies. (It really does seem that all our hopes for getting happily through winter are based on rodents, doesn’t it?)

For many of us, this is the time when we fall into a rut. We may have fallen off the resolution wagon and slowed up our workout schedule. It’s easy to rationalize those potato chips we ate while sitting on the couch; we worked hard in the home office.

Many studies have told us that chocolate is good for us in all kinds of ways.

Did you know:

  • A 100-gram bar of dark chocolate with 70–85% cocoa contains:
  • 11 grams of fibre
  • 67% of the RDI for iron
  • 58% of the RDI for magnesium
  • 89% of the RDI for copper
  • 98% of the RDI for manganese
  • It also has plenty of potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium

It’s at this point that we forget to include in our thinking that eating 100 g of chocolate in one sitting is downright silly – all because we are stuck in the winter blues.

Fear not, gentle reader. Those infinitely wise pundits (heavy on the “pun” here) have recently posted in the news that they have the answer.

They want us to eat all that comfort food and keep smiling on our couches, and now we can do that without feeling guilty. After all, Super Bowl weekend is coming, and then Valentine’s Day – we need to participate in the snacking.

With so much more time spent at home, many of us have indulged more. Alcohol consumption is up, and a recent survey in the U.S. found that 40% of Americans are snacking more than they were before the pandemic.

We Canadians are not falling that far behind. Frito-Lay has seen a 21% increase in snack foods.

Some of this indulgence is also about nostalgia, a concept central to comfort food. We like to remember happy times, and comfort food is usually centred around those times. The breakfast cereals we ate as kids hold a special place in our hearts.

That is why General Mills brought some of them back last fall. Trix, Golden Grahams, Cocoa Puffs and Cookie Crisp were re-released with “a return of the 80’s taste,” meaning all the work done to make them a more healthy recipe was thrown out in our time of emotional distress.

Of course, we all know we need a middle ground. The pandemic has not gone away, so our need for some comfort remains but we also want to consider our own wellbeing.

Announcing the new wellness trend for 2021: “emotionally soothing indulgent snacks.”

You might think I’m kidding. This is not just the rationalization that eating chocolate or ice cream makes you feel better, it is about including ingredients that have benefits such as immune-boosting antioxidants or healthy fats.

The holistic benefits of spices like cinnamon, ginger and turmeric have also become more popular.

Some examples of new items are:

  • Golden lattés with turmeric, and ginger in coffee or hot chocolate
  • Wild mushroom powder in but butters
  • Snack mixes flavoured with herbs and spices instead of salt

Of course, as sceptical as one might be about these combinations, there is a genuine upside – or so they say. Awareness about sustainability has increased, as many people make a greater effort to shop locally.

There has been more bulk shopping, which means less packaging.

The only problem with bulk packages is that there is more inside said package… and if our will power is not great then we tend to eat more, and more regularly (you can see where this is going – straight to our hips).

The solution now being offered is to sell “multi-packs,” a large container of small serving sized packages to help us control our portions. This does mean our efforts to lessen the waste go out the window, but we can get off the couch.

The one shift that seems to be carrying on undaunted in this new world is the trend to eating plant-based foods.

There are increasing efforts to showcase colourful dishes full of textures and flavours, enticing people to try this new approach to eating. Even if we don’t all get on this train 100%, it is certainly a healthy way of eating.

In closing, I want to offer up a selection of Super Bowl-worthy snacks that are all plant-based. Even if you’re not a believer, I’m sure you can use the basic recipe and add back in the meat or cheese if you wish.

Here are some recipes:.

If you support an independent store when you buy any ingredients, you get extra points.

For those of you wondering about my advice for Valentine’s Day, it is simply this: forego the out-of-season roses and enjoy chocolate or whatever your favourite treat might be.

This goes for everyone, single or attached. Love must come from within – be comfortable with yourself and you will likely find your comfort food is in a healthy balance too.

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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