Road trip vacations. Love 'em or hate 'em?

Road trip vacations

Do you travel by car for your summer holidays?

Was that the way you travelled as a kid? If so, this week’s column is for you. I want to know if you love it or hate it. (Please note I have my tongue firmly planted in my cheek at this point …)

As a kid, if you had siblings I am sure you remember the formalities of back seat travel.

“This is my side, you stay on your side” (as the older sibling drew a firm imaginary line across the seat). If not followed, this rule warranted the worst punishment your sibling(s) could think of.

You had to know at least six verses of “Down by the Bay” to contribute in the family sing-along, or suffer knowing you caused the breakdown of a tradition (only parents could end the song).

You had to be ready to play I Spy, Punch Buggy or license plate bingo when asked, or be prepared for teasing and/or grumpiness for as long as they saw fit (possibly the rest of the day).

Road snacks had to be shared equally, which sometimes required counting out kernels of popcorn or chips to ensure no hanky-panky occurred.

These formalities were necessary because the environment of the back seat was cramped and stressful. It was akin to being in a foxhole in wartime. You could never get comfortable, the temperature was never right and you were either drenched in dog drool or itchy from the crumbs of snacks being eaten while driving. The windows had to be open as there was no air conditioning, which meant you had to shout to talk and your hair slapped you in the face constantly. It did feel like a pause in the battle when the drive ended for the day.

I never got to do a road trip with my stepdaughter when she was little, but I respect the work it took as an adult to organize such a voyage. I was astounded at my parents’ stamina, managing all-day drives so we had more time at our destination campsite.

My mom was a master at pouring coffee from a thermos in a moving car. She even knew just where to hold the cup for my dad to grab it while driving—without looking. And her sandwiches were expertly wrapped in waxed paper to maintain them, with road-safe ingredients (egg salad is an no-no in a hot car but bologna works great).

My parents talked them up, but I don’t think they loved road trips. I remember one glorious trip to Long Beach that almost didn’t happen when we arrived late after a long day on those Vancouver Island logging roads. It was obviously tough setting up my uncle’s tent trailer for the first time in the dark. As my brother and I sat quietly in the back seat, I heard my mom swear for the first time when she broke a nail in the process.

Perhaps, today it’s different. We didn’t have travel mugs when I was a kid, much less tablets or (cellular) phones or—can you believe it?—a back seat screen for movies or video games.

Road snacks in my childhood days were often homemade. The convenience goods were saved for camping. Remember the breakfast cereal you could eat in the little box by slicing open the side and pouring in the milk?

Cookies, like Oreos and Dads Oatmeal Chocolate Chip, were reserved for eating when away from home. And what is better as a nighttime snack than the popcorn you shake over the campfire?

Maybe I am overly nostalgic in my recollection of my childhood summer vacations. How do you remember your road trips? For me, they were just the part that “built my character”, as my dad used to say (meaning they make the story even better in the telling).

This week, I’d like to take a poll and see if there are more positive or negative memories out there.

Are road trips a great rite of passage and a wonderful part of vacation memories? Or are they a childhood trauma you prefer not to recall or repeat anytime soon?

Please send me an email here with your vote. I will reveal the voting tally in next week’s column.

However you managed to enjoy a bit of a vacation this summer, I hope it made for happy memories.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


How the cookie has changed through history

History of the cookie

You’ve probably heard the adage, “That’s the way the cookie crumbles.”

Relating cookies to the general events of our life seems obvious now, since they are a ubiquitous snack. But did you know that cookies have been around for over 5,000 years?

Cookies were found in graves in China (probably left as sustenance for those dearly departed souls for their journey to the otherworld). But biscuits have existed ever since grain has been domesticated.

Nowadays, a biscuit is what a cookie is often called in the U.K. But in ancient times, the original biscuits were rusks, a dried piece of bread with about ten percent water content.

Rusks were often reconstituted with liquid to consume them, sometimes with water but more often with beer in the beginning. It was the Romans who first coined the term “biscuit”, which means “twice cooked”. They were still unsweetened, until Arabic bakers started experimenting with the crystallized sugar they invented.

Biscuits were first adapted with nuts and dried fruit and then spices as the spice trade moved ingredients across regions. It was the Spanish and Italians who developed the idea of eating these sweet, hard treats at the end of a meal. In those days, sugar was seen as very healthy, and many spices were valued for their medicinal value.

Biscuits also lead the way in the Industrial Revolution. They were the first food produced by a steam-powered machine – the first flat biscuits that didn’t have a rusk/bread shape. (If you’ve ever had a Carrs Water Cracker, or Biscuit if you’re in the U.K, you have sampled a descendant of these historic wonders.)

Cadburys was the first company to advertise a chocolate biscuit in the early 1900s, but those didn’t really catch on until they were covered in chocolate (remember, there were no chocolate chips yet).

Even in North America, the term biscuit was used before cookie. The largest bakery in the world is a plant where Nabisco makes many of its products (biscuits, crackers and cookies included.) Their original name was the National Biscuit Company. In Canada, their products use the Christie brand.

In 1912, a quintessential cookie was invented. But did you know it was not the original one of its style? The famous Oreo cookie, made by Nabisco, was an offshoot of the Hydrox, another chocolate sandwich biscuit with vanilla filling. Nabisco had more marketing power than the smaller company making Hydrox, so they eventually won out as the popular choice.

The most popular cookie of all though, for North American audiences, is the chocolate chip cookie. Legend has it that a home baker named Ruth Wakefield invented it by accident and made it famous in her inn that was on a toll road, called The Toll House (hence “toll house cookie”).

The story is that she possibly ran out of butter, or bits of chocolate fell in the dough. But Ruth herself debunked this in conversations with reporters over the years. And there is evidence other recipes were published earlier than hers, as many as 10 to 20 years before Ruth’s famous cookie.

“Chocolate Jumbles”, as the earlier recipe was called, originally had grated chocolate. If you’ve ever tried to grate chocolate you can understand why someone decided to stop grating and start chopping. The pieces of chocolate were called chips, just as wood chips or potato chips.

Despite not being the original effort, Ruth Wakefield’s recipe using a generous amount of brown sugar just as she did in her well-loved butterscotch cookie, is the one that became the most common source for the cookie we know today.

She started giving it out to newspapers and it was picked up by Nestlé to put on their bags of machine-made “chocolate morsels”.

What kind of cookie is your favourite? Are you a dunker of crispy cookies, or do you call them biscuits? Maybe you’re a muncher of soft cookies.

Any way the cookie crumbles is fine by me, as long as there are enough for everyone.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Long weekends are meant for parties

Holiday entertaining

I think perhaps I was destined to be in the service industry.

For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed hosting a party of one kind or another and I cannot remember the last time I didn’t work on a long weekend (unless you count the last two years of not working at all).

When I was a kid, I was always looking for more people to join in on an outing or a game. My parents were the kind of people who really meant it when they said, “stop by if you’re in the neighbourhood”. Sharing quality time with friends and family was always a highlight of every season, and it always involved looking after people with food and activities.

I have written in past columns of my mom’s ingenuity in planning childhood birthday parties – cool games and fun cakes were her specialty. But my first experience with how real party planning worked came with my parents’ notion for having people over before the summer season ended.

I think it was my dad who said, “I know, we’ll have a pool party!” The only thing was, we didn’t have a pool. We lived in a duplex that had a small, sloping fenced yard. But my dad would not be deterred. He knew it was a good marketing tactic to invite people to a pool party. Who doesn’t want to have fun by the pool?

So, he went out to get an inflatable kids’ pool (so we could make it official) and my mom started to make food for the masses.

There were cabbage rolls galore, and cream cheese dip with pineapple to go with celery and carrot sticks (it was the 1970s, after all). Cold cuts, cheeses, sweet pickles and Ritz crackers were arrayed on our bread board (we didn’t call them charcuterie boards in those days). Salads, buns, watermelon—the table was full in the afternoon, and decimated by the evening. Everyone went home full and happy. The party became a yearly occurrence through my teen years, amidst other seasonal gatherings.

You can see how it isn’t a big stretch to understand how I grew up and married a chef and now live with a harvest table in my backyard for hosting lots of friends. But there is a catch. I can hardly ever get anyone to come over.

Being in the business of helping people host parties by supplying the food means that we are working when everyone else is partying. When we have a day off after a big weekend of working (like the one coming up), everyone else is back working. Can you see my dilemma?

There are disadvantages in every profession, and this is one with a service job. But it’s okay, I mostly don’t mind. The joy I get from being part of making a celebration happen is even more than the joy I feel as just one person at a party.

Our friends and family are sometimes disappointed when we can’t attend events with them. I like to believe it makes it even more special when we can be there, and I know they love it when we bring food.

Eventually we do get to the shoulder season, when we have a chance to host people ourselves before Mother Nature closes the window of opportunity on outdoor meals. That is our grand finale to the summer.

I wish all of you a glorious long weekend, whether you are enjoying quiet time alone or loud, messy gatherings with loved ones. May it be full of delicious memories and laughter.

If I could ask a favour, it is to give a smile or perhaps a word of thanks if you spend time with any hardworking service folk.

That is the food that fuels us as we flutter around the party on the outside of the fun. You will make our weekend a special one too if you can remember to share your joy.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Life is a bowl of cherries

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Life is a bowl of cherries”?

It comes from the name of a song from the 1930s that was about a charmed life where everything went wonderfully.

I learned this phrase in my childhood from a book Erma Bombeck wrote, called “If life is a bowl of cherries, what am I doing in the pits?”

She was a humourist from the 1970s, but today I think that attitude is taken more seriously.

But in this column I am here to encourage you to see the positive side of that saying, by simply living its essence: enjoy the bounty.

Cherry season in the Okanagan is always a time of indulgence for me.

When I was a kid, cherries were considered a luxury. They were available but only as a treat, as they were an expensive summer fruit.

My hubby remembers cherries the same way — in the ‘70s, they were something you had only a few times and only a few at a time. There were never enough of them to make a dessert or any kind of recipe.

Now, we have a cherry tree in our yard, and every summer we make cherry desserts, cherry ice cream, cherry scones, even cherry juice. I feel like a Queen for most of July.

Does anyone else remember “The Witches of Eastwick”? There is a scene in that movie where Michelle Pfeiffer, Susan Sarandon and Cher — the witches — all recount how a woman talks of them disparagingly as they eat a gigantic bowl of cherries.

Let’s just say, bad things happen to the woman after that. So, my caveat to eating cherries is to make sure you think good thoughts. It’s the secret to enjoying most things, really.

Check out a local farm stand or farmers market to get local cherries and enjoy fresh-picked flavour. They can all use our support. And get creative in using cherries in food:

make cherry salsa (red onion, sweet and hot peppers, maybe some cilantro if you like) - it’s delicious with grilled salmon or chicken

Try dipping cherries on their stems in melted chocolate (gourmand tip: if you pit them first, more chocolate flows through the hole)

Make a cherry clafoutis (recipe link: https://happygourmand.wordpress.com/recipe-archives/cherry-clafoutis/) This delectable cross between a pancake and a cobbler is not to be missed, for brunch or dessert.

Maybe cherries are not a luxury here in the Okanagan, but enjoying quality time still seems to be an art. Even if you just grab a bowl of cherries and sit down to enjoy them, that could make life better at least for a moment, don’t you think?

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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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