We all have our own favourite cookie

As the cookie crumbles

My mom used to say, “There’s not much a cookie can’t cure.”

I know that’s perhaps a tad optimistic, but I always loved the philosophy. I know cookies don’t cure anything, but my ongoing road trip has confirmed my belief they do help create and reinforce connections.

I’ll give you an example using Oreo cookies. I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t like them. (But I know you’re out there, and I don’t want you to feel excluded so please read on.) Oreos can make people smile. And, in the U.S., they have so many types.

I am a traditional kind of gal. No Double Stuff for me, thanks. Chocolate filling is OK, but why mess with success? Or so I thought until we got to Iowa and I found Toffee Crunch Oreos.

Fair warning, this variation turns a vintage favourite into a new thing altogether. But change is good, and innovation, especially the tasty kind, deserves appreciation.

I could do without Pumpkin Spice Oreos, but if these show up in Canada, I’d say go ahead and try them. They gave me the same kind of ear-to-ear smile as the originals, and they are downright yummy.

There are plenty of independent places where amazing home-baked goods are produced and we have supported many in our travels. I have made it a mission to avoid corporate coffee places and frequent the local haunts. But there is one American chain of grocery stores that has a sort of cult status, so we needed to include it on our shopping list. It’s Trader Joe’s.

If you’ve never been to a Trader Joe’s, it’s hard to explain just how much fun it can be. They have treats of every sort—flavoured fruit jellies, chocolate covered nuts and dried fruit, packaged sweet and savoury sauces and condiments. It’s a gourmand’s paradise. But the cookie aisle is almost daunting.

I am a fan of Joe-Joe’s, their sandwich cookies. Chocolate cookies with a peanut butter filling are a good combination, but at Christmas, they do a deluxe chocolate covered sandwich with peppermint filling and candy cane pieces on the outside. There are also “Dunkers” (crispy oatmeal cookies), Triple Ginger Snaps, soft-baked Snickerdoodles. You get the idea.

For a store-bought cookie, Trader Joe’s has got all the bases covered. The catch is, you have to make your own connection with other fellow cookie lovers.

I don’t want to finish this column without giving you an example of a homemade cookie you can try yourself as that would be mean. So, I’m going to share a recipe ta friend shared with me, one she has always made for her family, just as her mom did when she was little.

Have you heard of “Monster cookies?” I hadn’t. We were comparing childhood memories of favourite treats, and apparently this is a popular Midwest cookie. It is a hearty, flavourful recipe, good enough for a midday snack but with just enough decadence to offset the oats.

The recipe she shared was for huge proportions, meant to last a large family a little while. (It started with three pounds of peanut butter). She mentioned mixing it in her turkey roasting pan. I was doubtful about making a huge batch, but once I tasted them, I realized the sense in it. That same old smile crept across my lips and spread from ears to ear, and I could feel the love that came from making them.

Sustenance is defined as food and drink regarded as a source of strength and nourishment. I take the Winnie the Pooh’s interpretation of this concept—sustenance is about feeling connected to our food and the enjoyment of it. Our favourite foods call to us, just like Pooh’s pots of honey. (Pooh has also shown us that foods like honey—and cookies—can cause us to see heffalumps at night if we have too many. )

Everyone has a favourite cookie that sustains them. Maybe it’s homemade, or maybe it’s store bought. Either way, they have a special place in our hearts. They connect us to that warm, fuzzy feeling we get from pleasant experiences. When we get to share them with others, it amplifies the feeling.

I hope you get to share a favourite cookie with someone special soon.

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

Fun times is small American mid-west city

'The city of five smells'

We are staying near Cedar Rapids, Iowa with friends this week and so we’ve had a nice chance to get to know the place.

It is a very interesting and engaging city, full of open, friendly people with a Midwest sense of humour (you’ll see what I mean as you read on). I have become a big fan of the place.

Did you know that Cedar Rapids is the hometown of Grant Wood, the man who painted “American Gothic”? This quintessential image has been posted, copied and parodied many times since Wood painted it in 1930. We often see it as a sarcastic poke at the old-fashioned values of rural folks (like those in the Midwest) but Grant Wood intended it to be a positive reinforcement of those strong values, an uplifting message leading into the Great Depression.

This positive nature is embedded in the culture in Cedar Rapids. Its official nickname is “the city of five seasons”. This isn’t a weather-related advantage, but rather a comment on the short commuting time compared to other major cities.

Our friends live in Mount Vernon, a nearby community full of commuters. It takes them 20 minutes to drive the 15 miles (24 km) to downtown Cedar Rapids. We live in West Kelowna, and it takes us 30 minutes to drive 15 km (only nine miles). You gotta love the American highway system.

Anyway, an advertising firm hired to promote the city jumped on this and came up with this comment:

Life is the sum of all the seasons with which it is filled. And if we have time to enjoy the things most important to us, life is rich and full indeed.

In Cedar Rapids there is time enough, time to enjoy the seasons as they pass. Extra time. Precious time. A fifth season.

People here really do seem to cherish that fifth season and make the most of it.

I mentioned the sense of humour the locals have. It’s evident in the unofficial nickname of the city: “the city of five smells”. You see, the city has four milling plants, including the biggest one in the world for Quaker Oats, where they make not only oatmeal but cereals like Life, Honey Nut Cheerios and Captain Crunch in all its forms. If you are lucky, you’ll be in town on “Crunch Berry Day” when the sweet berry smell of that cereal wafts over the city.

The fifth smell is apparently Mount Trashmore, a manmade hill that comes from the old dump site which is now covered with grass and has paths and park land and an observatory, being the highest point in the city. I can honestly say I didn’t smell anything unpleasant, and I was thoroughly impressed by the innovative idea.

How can you dislike a place where they make fun breakfast cereal? If that doesn’t convince you, what if I told you they have street signs that say, “Closed for sledding during winter months” on some suburban hilly roads? I am not kidding, I’ll post the picture I took on my Happy Gourmand Facebook page. (link: https://www.facebook.com/HappyGourmande )

You might think all this seems a bit silly, not nearly serious enough to warrant attention for one small city in the (northern) middle of a huge country. Maybe that’s so, but maybe a bit more silliness in how we solve the challenges of society is just what we need in today’s world.

The community I see here seems to be enjoying themselves quite a bit. I think we could all use a dose of more seasons, more smells and more fun.

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

Camping is fun and so is camping food

The joys of camping

Now that another camping season is in the books for most, let’s look at some of the highlights so we can cement those memories to warm us through the “inside season”.

First and foremost, who doesn’t love stargazing when they’re out in the woods? Even with a propane campfire, your eyes can adjust to the dark. If you’re lucky, you might even see a shooting star or a meteor shower.

For some, the rustic nature of camping is a dose of free living; no need to worry about things like showers or doing one’s hair. Just brew the coffee, sit back and relax. Quality time like that is valuable, and we often don’t get it in our regular busy schedules.

Camping food is unique too. At home it’s not so common to have hot dogs for dinner, but when camping it’s almost obligatory in some family‘s camping traditions. And don’t forget s’mores, the quintessential camping food.

We love making pizza while camping - the mess of flour being scattered and any crumbs that fall are just lost in the grass, instead of needing a detailed kitchen clean up.

I love the change of pace and scenery that comes with camping. We don’t sleep on the ground anymore as we have our vintage trailer, but we still love cooking outside and sitting in the great outdoors with our four-legged pal.

There are some things that could be improved, however. I’m not going to ask for no mosquitoes, but I have a few suggestions on how campgrounds can be improved.

Here’s a few practical ideas that would make the experience better:

1. Spotlights on the camp road—I understand the concept of safety, but why do we have to light the campground like a baseball field? I can see stars better at home than with light pollution like that.

2. Showers—If I’m having a shower, I’d like to hang up my stuff so it doesn’t get wet or dirty. Why is it there is never more than one hook, and at best a tiny shelf or stool to balance clothes, towel and toiletries? And is it too much to ask for a shower head that sprays water on me, instead of all around me?

3. Recycling—Garbage is usually well organized at a campground, but recycling is often less obvious. I would be happy to donate my recyclables for the upkeep of a campground or a community group if there was a receptacle. When campgrounds say they recycle but they only mean cardboard, I think it’s a missed opportunity.

This year Hubbie and I are still out in the world making the most of our cross-continent camping trip. I can confirm that British Columbia has campgrounds that stand out amongst many others (even without the improvements I mentioned).

We are happy being ambassadors, spreading the word that people should see for themselves why “Beautiful B.C.” is our slogan.

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


People step up to help others, and not just during emergencies

The kindness of strangers

We have been away from home since the beginning of August, so we missed being there for all the events of the last few weeks. Everyone everywhere has asked us about the fires. We just felt helpless.

It has been so heartening to see and hear stories of how our community has come together, how people have helped one another. When things get tough, it is encouraging to know there always seem to be people who rise to the occasion and do something special.

Some folks have that sort of soul—firefighters and other first responders, for example. Is it a special gene they have, or a special calling that makes them want to put themselves on the edge for the sake of helping others? I salute you all and thank you for your service. You are special human beings.

There are stories in the news of special events too, like when individuals help someone else or support someone they don’t even know. One racer helping another cross the finish line, or children who cannot see differences between themselves and their friends because to them they don’t matter. I love the kindred spirit that comes alive in those moments.

Everyone deserves the kindness of strangers. On the road, we have had some long days, some of them just from the many miles covered and others from mishaps along the way. I don’t know about you but when an unexpected gesture of kindness or consideration is directed my way, my spirits are buoyed immediately.

I will carry the analogy of buoying one’s spirits even further. The more often one is buoyed by this kindness, the more buoyant one’s soul becomes. I don’t want to sound too corny, but this kind of regular behaviour could actually float your boat.

I’ll give you an example – recently we had a good day, only dealing with a soggy start when our camping spot became full of mucky puddles from rain that kept on falling as we packed up. We mopped up as best we could, happy that we had the foresight to tuck our extra things away the night before. So, our spirits were running pretty high.

Our new spot tonight is at the farm of an older couple in upstate New York, complete with full services among singing birds, crickets and what I think is some kind of frog. Not a puddle in sight. All tucked in we were, when the lady of the house came down the lane with her dog to say, “You’re coming up for ice cream, right?”

We were pleasantly shocked . What a lovely gesture. How could we say no? We tried, but she said it was a tradition with all the “boondockers” they hosted. So up the lane we went and had a delightful visit sharing stories and enjoying their hospitality (and of course, their ice cream.)

They certainly didn’t have to show us more hospitality, having already invited us onto their property. And yet here we were, in their living room, enjoying the warmth of their home and their company.

I am so glad we are staying two nights, as it gives us a chance to share our dinner with them tomorrow. Then we can at least feel we returned the favour and kept the energy flowing. We will look forward to trying to share that energy as we continue down the road.

I think about that old quote from Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire: “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” We shouldn’t depend on it, and it’s unreasonable to expect it will always happen when we would like. But that doesn’t mean we can’t put the wheels in motion.

Not many of us have the special spark that makes us want to be first responders. But we all have a spark of kindness we can share. How about this as a more general approach, from Mother Teresa? “Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.”

Or, to put it in words that offer a bit more explanation, here is a suggestion from someone else who tried to keep that energy flowing: “Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you.” – Princess Diana

See you down the road.

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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