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Happy-Gourmand

Tall tales for small talk

It looks like it will be a while before most of us are around a water cooler again, but small talk is something that needs to carry on.

Picture this: your sleepy roommate is staring blankly at you while the morning coffee brews. Only random comments on a trivial subject are worth uttering on such an occasion.

Trivial tidbits are part of the de-greaser that keeps society running smoothly. We need the compassionate gestures that get us through difficult situations, like duct tape fixes – well, anything that is unstuck.

But we also need bits of idle chatter to help maintain an in-person connection in society, just like WD-40 helps keep our doors opening and closing without a squeak.

So, here I am at your service, with a list of food-related tidbits ready for sharing. I will dispel a few old myths for you, offer a few intriguing facts, and, I hope, even a giggle or two.

If you would like to share any food trivia you have, please connect with me through email or Facebook; I always love to hear from readers.

Food myths

My Gramps used to tell me that if I ate watermelon seeds, I would end up with one growing in my tummy. I was a terrible spitter, you see, so I ate more than a few as a youngster.

Since I also ate a bit of dirt, mucking about in the yard as we did back then, it didn’t seem impossible.

Another item that kids sometimes swallow is gum. Just about every parent has a story as to why this is a bad idea; check out some memories recounted by people in a survey Atlas Obscura did recently:

“Gum stays in your body for seven years. When my grandfather once asked me, ‘Where’s your gum?’ and I told him I’d swallowed it, he put his finger on my abdomen and said, ‘Well, we are going to have to go right in there and get it.’ Wouldn’t be concerning to most, but my grandfather happened to be a surgeon!” — Bart, Minneapolis

“If you swallow your chewing gum it will tangle itself around your ribs and you will be a hunchback for the rest of your life. My mother [told me]. It sticks with me because for years if I accidentally swallowed my gum, I would worry for days.” — Baxter, South Africa

A myth more grown ups have fallen for is about balancing eggs. Many believe this is a feat only possible one day of the year. Not true. As Wikipedia and other sources will tell you, this custom originated in China as part of the festivities at Lichun, the start of spring, but there is no celestial or gravitational influence that affects the egg.

The only thing reported to influence egg-balancing is a few grains of salt people sometimes use to help steady the naturally dimpled surface of the shell as they balance it.

Little-known food facts

Celery and parsley are flavours that have existed for ages; they were written about often in ancient Greece. Did you know that at funerals, the most common way to honour the dead (especially a fallen warrior) was with a wreath of celery?

The celery of ancient Greece was wild, darker and more bitter than what is cultivated today; the less desirable taste made it easy to associate with death, apparently.

There was even a Greek expression — if someone “needed celery” they didn’t need more veggies, they were already near death. Note: this information is not meant to offer an excuse for not eating your celery sticks. Eat your veggies.

Let’s finish on a sweeter note, with a bit of Canadian food trivia - something I learned while researching this piece.

One of my favourite summer ice cream flavours is uniquely Canadian, rarely found anywhere else… Tiger Tail (sometimes known as Tiger Tiger, same recipe). Those orange and licorice stripes were created by Morgan Carr, and first gained popularity in ice cream parlours from the 1950s through the 1970s.

I hope those lovely morsels of random information help get you over some awkward moments in conversations.

I will leave you with one more myth to dispel with that sleepy roommate in the morning. White chickens do lay white eggs. Red, not brown, chickens lay brown eggs.Brown cows, while they look darling, do not make chocolate milk for your coffee.





It's brunch season

There is something about spring and a long weekend that seem to create the perfect ambience for brunch.

It's the quintessential lazy meal, meant for lounging over and savouring. So, this week I wanted to offer a few of my favourite brunch recipes in case you want to partake.

Even if you don’t manage it for this long weekend, you can save the recipes for later use.

Some folks like to focus on the lazy aspect of brunch — in this case, laziness on the day simply requires a bit of planning. With current restrictions in place against indoor dining and it being a bit cool for patio brunches yet, a restaurant brunch is tricky.

My suggestion is to support local eateries by ordering items you can finish preparing later, or items that can be served at room temperature, like pastries, cheese and charcuterie, or salads.

A favourite for brunch is the good old-fashioned cinnamon bun. There are a million recipes out there and many people have their preferences — just cinnamon or with raisins or nuts, cream cheese icing or not… I am not here to pass judgment.

I offer a few alternatives for you to sample and decide what’s best.

Kick up the filling.

My mom used to buy frozen dough and spread butter over it, then top it with a sprinkle of brown sugar and cinnamon. When I was little, I figured these were great; I knew no better.

Now, I can share the secret to truly delectable buns: mix the cinnamon, sugar and butter into a paste, and then spread it on your dough. Add nutmeg if you are adventurous.

Get creative.

Raisins and/or nuts are fun (hint: toast the nuts first), but how about finely chopped apple, or chocolate? A new craze that is like a souped-up cinnamon bun is Babka — check out one of those recipes if you want to knock the socks off the folks you are feeding.

Serve them with fruit salad.

It might sound simple, some fruit tossed in a citrus-honey dressing adds another old-fashioned touch and some colour to your plate. Or, if you’re looking for a more decadent spread, put out some cheeses, scrambled eggs and maybe even bacon.

If you want something you can assemble at the table, then I think waffles are a fun option. My favourite recipe is Pecan waffles.

I serve them with our homemade “fruit goop,” a sort of compote that we preserve in the summer with whatever is in season. You can cook frozen berries with a bit of sugar or honey and a dash of cornstarch in a slurry to thicken it and voilà.

Thick yogurt or whipped cream is delicious as well.

Perhaps you are more of a savoury brunch fan. In that case, I have got you covered. My old standby (which also serves as a creative dinner dish too) is Eggs Shakshuka.

The rich tomato sauce bubbling with an elegant poached egg in the centre is a happy marriage of flavours. Add a slice of sourdough toast and you are in brunch heaven.

Another easy-to-make dish that can even be prepped in advance is Onion Galette. (For those of you who don’t like cooked onions, how about a variation with mushrooms, or even a medley of zucchini and peppers?)

This would go well with eggs and/or bacon, or on its own with a bit of salad if you wanted something more toward the lunch part of brunch.

The key component here is making a choice that does not stress you out. Make a pot of your favourite coffee or pour mimosas if you like them.

Lounge about after the meal to really let the vibe soak in. Toast your good health and send some of those good vibes into the universe. Then you know your brunch was a success.



Hopping the bunny trail

Well, here we are, back at Easter. It is good to know that spring is under way, even if we are all still “Zooming” with friends and family.

We need to celebrate and let loose. So, here's my lighthearted foodie nod to the spring holiday weekend, with a few ideas on how to have some fun.

I watch my puppy, Freyja, get spring scents in her nostrils - her tail perks up, like she has inhaled a tonic, and she takes off at top speed, running willy-nilly in the yard. (Her kind of “zooming” is much more fun.)

Children are the same at this time of year, running to hunt for Easter eggs and enjoying more outside time. Adults should have a dose of that, too.

Celebrating joy at Easter with food and fanfare is meant to be a multi-faceted affair. With the past year, however, we are a bit out of practice at entertaining.

I am here to tell you we need to get back in the game.

Consider this a dress rehearsal – pull out that pastel-coloured tablecloth and napkin rings and buy some tulips for the table (or ask a neighbour if you can have some cuttings from a spring bush).

You might not have guests sitting at the table, but their hearts will be warmed when they see your efforts on that Zoom call.

If you aren’t up to preparing an Easter feast, think of supporting a local restaurant.

In Kelowna, Okanagan Table has a ham dinner option. In West Kelowna, Mission Hill and Quails’ Gate wineries are offering packages.

Many restaurants now have menu items prepared and frozen to take home and some will do custom orders ahead of time. Please show them some love if you can.

Chocolate is a mandatory component of the Easter season. Jellied candies, Peeps and caramel-filled treats make up the rest of the four Easter goodie food groups.

In case you weren’t sure, I am hear to tell you that all of them should be present in an Easter hunt.

This is the one time of year when the theme overrides the issue of quality; you can have just as much fun eating Peeps as you can savouring artisanal chocolate bunnies made from estate cocoa beans.

I would highly recommend a visit to Sandrine’s for a special treat, though. And if you are a crazy foodie, you can try making your own Peeps.

I always enjoyed the hunt for my Easter “loot.” It was one more reason to enjoy every morsel, the celebration of having followed directions or solving the riddle.

One year when I was a kid, we had a poem whose rhymes gave hints on where to find the eggs – it included a quote from Macbeth that was to lead us to the eggs hidden in the washing machine.

A scavenger hunt is a great virtual Easter activity. Everyone can search for the same colour of egg for a given prize, or you can play an “I-Spy” version with the task being something of a certain colour or shape.

Couples can play this game at home too, with prizes being favours granted for the winner, maybe? (wink wink)

You can have an Easter parade if the weather co-operates, too. The kids can decorate bikes or scooters, and everyone can sport a decorated Easter bonnet as they walk around the neighbourhood or at the park.

I know it’s not the same as Easters of old, but we owe it to ourselves to embrace the new energy of spring and share some love.

I certainly plan to sample a jellybean or two, and I promise to savour a chocolate bunny on Easter Monday (I'm a tail-first gal; I eat the ears last.)

I will watch the dog bounce in the new grass. I might even check in the washing machine to see if the Easter Bunny remembered a long-ago hiding place.



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Don't mess with bun-kebab

I read a food article from BBC News this week that inspired me to chat.

It was about a controversy in Pakistan over a popular street food versus the local McDonald’s version, and it made me think of the age-old argument of tradition versus evolution.

As we look forward into a new world full of changed things, are we more or less likely to want to eat new food?

Everyone has their non-negotiables in life. These concepts speak to our ethics, our roots, and our character.

As far as food is concerned, I have found that usually the topic of non-negotiables is more of a moving target, influenced by friends and new experiences… and sometimes, one too many drinks. (Who has eaten that hot pepper on a dare?)

Even whether you like smooth or chunky peanut butter is sometimes an impulsive decision.

Globalization changed the way we look at food. Many foods previously considered exotic are now regular items at the supermarket.

Pineapples, dragon fruit, and daikon radish are easy to find and often not even expensive. Sauces and spices from other cultures sit alongside ketchup and mayo in people’s fridges.

We can have it all now, if that is what we want.

There is still cachet in local specialties and artisan products. But it is not uncommon to see the big chains take on favourite items. I remember the day my poor hubby, a classically trained chef, discovered McDonald’s was serving crème brulée.

“That’s it,” he moaned woefully, “I am not cooking that for clients any more.”

Not to pick on McDonald’s, but the same sort of situation now exists in Pakistan. There they have a street food made popular in the ’50s, called a bun-kebab. It is a fried patty made with ground beef and lentils or potatoes, and sometimes a fried egg on top, served in a fluffy bun with crispy vegetables and chutney.

As is customary with street food, the bun kebab tends to be unique at each vendor, but always simple, cheap and full of fresh flavours. The perfect lunch for workers on the go, or at the school cafeteria.

McDonald’s seemed to see this item as a twist on their burger, so why not add it to the menu?

They did manage to prepare a recipe of the deluxe “anday-waala burger” with the fried egg that offered the basic components, but it lacked the experience from a roadside stand.

It was also three times the price.

One could argue this is just a case of a company trying to offer everything, which we all know is impossible. You can’t please all the people all the time. But I think it goes deeper than that.

If you translate “anday-waala” it means “egg with…” You see, the bun-kebab is all about the extras that go into the bun.

The main patty is not the star, as is the case with a western-style burger. Even the language proves that difference, with the clients trusting the vendors to use their own flair in creating something special.

I will use my chef hubby again to give you another example. He will not cook Christmas dinner for a client, unless they agree to let him do something different with the menu.

“Why would I attempt to cook your Granny’s lumpy mashed potatoes that you love, and your Mom’s special gravy, when I know I could never duplicate it?” he says.

The experience is as important as the food.

I am not making a case for lumpy, mashed potatoes, or mass-produced crème brulée. Food and cultures do evolve, often much to the delight of diners, as I have written about in previous columns.

I think the issue here is trust. There is an integrity to food that is created out of passion, and I for one believe that should be respected.

If you want to add ketchup on a bun-kebab when you visit the street vendors in Pakistan, that is your choice. Maybe someone from Pakistan might add some chutney to a McDonald's burger.

But can we stand up and support those who work to keep the integrity of their culture in simple things like a takeaway lunch item?

The world does not need more homogenization. If the cream never gets to float to the top, how will we ever be inspired?



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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