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A Cool Breeze
I know that the passage of time seems to accelerate as we get older but this year our summer really was cut short with that cool breeze of autumn. I am sure any day now the birds will start their pilgrimage south. Here we are barely at the end of August and already the ground has cooled and the chill is back in the morning. I am desperately hoping we will be able to eke out a few more days for sitting on the deck before we pack it all in for another year. I am mourning the end of summer.
Those of you who are regular readers of this column will have noticed that we did not have a submission last week. I am sorry for leaving you hanging, but you see it was the one week I had company come to town and between cramming in some time to enjoy with them and attempting to finish out the summer chores before the rain took over...well, there just wasn't any more time (or energy) left for anything else - except for work, which just seems to be a nuisance, especially in the summer, don't you think? I mean really, when you have to organize a leisurely breakfast, daytime activities for various age groups, cocktails and appies on the deck, multi-course dinners that feature our wondrous Okanagan bounty and then scintillating late-night conversation with a delectable treat to cap the evening off - how do you possibly arrange to work with all that to do?
Well, there wasn't much sleeping going on but I did thoroughly enjoy catching up with family and seeing a new generation of kids forge relationships I hope will last as long as mine with their parents. Perhaps decades from now they will be sitting on a deck in the Okanagan reminiscing as we did; I can only hope. And the beets I put up from the garden will make great gifts this weekend for our friends in Calgary, so that was time well spent. Life is indeed short, but you can actually pack a lot in if you want to!
This weekend is time for just the two of us...and a bunch of die-hard barbecuers from around the continent. Martin is going for the gold at "BBQ on the Bow" in Calgary, so I hope you will wish him luck. I am there just as moral support - I just can't consume enough meat in a weekend to be called a serious "ba-becue" fan! I know I will have him to myself when we get into the Rockies on our mushroom-picking hike, and that is just fine by me. If it has to be autumn, then in the forest with the mushrooms and the streams and that cool breeze is the place to be.
I hope you had a great summer, and that the kids are ready for school. Take some time to store away those dog day memories before you start to unpack the school supplies and sweaters again. That way you can pull them out on a dreary day when you need them, and you will feel the heat just the way the birds do when they arrive at their winter getaway...Kristin
And the loser is... And the loser is...
Those of you that read our column regularly know that we are home bodies. In the winter we do watch a selection of TV shows with quite a bit of loyalty. One of our favourites is "24". This past Sunday was to be the big launch of another catastrophic day in the life of Jack Bauer, and I was really looking forward to coming home after a hard day at work knowing that someone had it way worse than me, and they still managed to make some good out of the day at the end of it all. Unfortunately, so far this year I am out of luck. (I know there are other people out there who are worse off than I, don't get me wrong. Sometimes it is just nice to get that reminder, you know?)
Of course the reason that Jack and all our other small screen friends are MIA is that the writers are still on strike and so productions are shut down. I don't mean to take sides as I cannot profess to have more than a cursory knowledge of the issues at hand. However, I can say that I think the drivel we are left with is cruel and unusual punishment and I am here to remind my fellow couch potatoes that we can take action. You may remember a certain film a few years back (maybe more than that...) in which a disgruntled TV anchor started a revolution with the cry, "I'm mad as **** and I'm not going to take it anymore!" The crucial part, he claimed, was that you have to get mad to want to bother even getting out of your seat. As Martin sat with the remote the other night, flipping from one insipid reality show to the next, I decided I was mad enough to get up and start typing.
So, in an effort to take action I am using this week's column to make you ponder just valuable your free time is...do you really want to use it watching people humiliate themselves by performing stupid stunts or acting like prima donnas for their fifteen minutes of fame? Let me ask you this: if someone at the dinner table has something between their teeth, do you try to tell them or do you laugh at them when they look the other way? Just like Howard Beale's character in "Network", I think that human decency is an important part of our character and I would like to preserve it. If you don't like a show, just changing the channel will have an effect. Lower ratings really do kill shows. Higher ratings for things we like will preserve them. Just like I enjoy a balanced meal, I enjoy a balanced show with good writing and good acting and good directing and good lighting … (good catering goes without saying of course.) If we don't take action to have a balanced life, it is us who loses out the most.
I guess the good news is, there may be more people eating at the dinner table these days, and fewer folks crouched around the couch to catch up on the latest installment of their favourite sitcom. Maybe people will read more. I know I have had a chance to read my cooking magazines cover to cover. But I do hope that the Writer's Guild and the studios will come to an agreement quickly. I don't know what we will do for our annual Oscar party if things aren't fixed soon.
So what is my moral this week? Quality time is important even if it is somebody else's - respecting someone's art is as important as enjoying the fruits of your own labour. Thank an artist you know this week, so they know you appreciate their efforts. Maybe that way we can help avoid more strikes. It's more fun to be happy than mad.
Thanks Chef, for all those beautiful meals.
I am with the Writers on this one... there are so much bad TV, that we need the Writers to get what they want and return to work. The network makes so much money, the least they can do is share a good portion of it with the people writing the words for their profit machine.
I say in support of the Writers Guild and to show our solidarity we should all start eating ice cream everyday until they return to work. It is not right to screw around with Jack Bauer's schedule.
I want to leave you with my thoughts on the summer coming up. I know you are thinking it is way too early to start thinking about BBQ and pools, but if every business is like mine, it's never too early to book your holidays. So if you are planning a holiday in the Okanagan think ahead and reserve. Last year we went camping and I roasted a leg of lamb on the fire, and this year I am planning the same process with rabbit. Look below for one last winter stew recipe for that pesky rabbit in your area!
One rabbit cut into pieces
One cup of flour
1 clove of garlic
2 pieces of celery
1 cup of white wine
2 tbsp thyme
Some fresh parsley
1 cup of 33% cream
3 tbsp of grainy mustard
Salt & pepper
In a large enough stew pot cook the onion, celery and the garlic
Dust rabbit pieces in flour and shake off excess. Brown in olive oil on all sides in a large cast iron pan. Remove the rabbit pieces and place in your large pot with the onions.
Pour on your white wine and reduce half. Add chicken broth, parsley, thyme, 1 cup of water and your mustard while cooking until rabbit turns tender which will take about an hour. Add the cream and season with salt and pepper.
All You Need is Love
Okay, I suppose this week's title is less than subtle, but what do you expect for the most commercialized festive occasion of them all? Valentine's Day falls in a season full of festivities, with Mardi Gras and Chinese new Year right next to it on the calendar, and yet it has become one of the days of the year that makes many want to hide away from the world. Who could blame them? What sane person would normally spend money on flowers out of season or want to buy a box of chocolates so big it can only be called gluttonous?
Don't get me wrong, it's not that I have no romantic notions; those who know me can attest to the fact that I am a sap when it comes to love. But there's the rub - Valentine's Day should be about love, and not about feeling obligated to keep up with the trends or make the biggest show. Maybe a big show is something you love, but if so I would think you would want to stand out, and not be part of a whole room of big shows. Personally, I like the little touches, like the time there was some little thing under my pillow for a week leading up to Valentine's Day. One simple blossom with a handwritten note can mean much more than a whole bouquet from FTD, if you know what I mean. And I do believe that chocolate is an aphrodisiac, so maybe more is better but there is something to be said for pacing yourself, too…
Removing my tongue from my cheek I can tell you that the history of Valentine's Day is certainly a rich one, and you could argue that as a result, it can be interpreted today in many fashions. It has been a pagan festival (I won't tell you the gory details of that) and a religious saint's day (to honour a priest who defied a Roman emperor, marrying couples when the soldiers were supposed to be concentrating on fighting). In ancient Rome February was considered the beginning of spring, but even in the Middle Ages they said that the date of February 14 was appropriate as it was (supposedly) the first day of mating season for Europe's birds. The tradition of sending cards is said in some circles to have started with the aforementioned Roman priest, who was of course jailed for his disobedience but then fell in love with his jailer's daughter and wrote her a note before his death, signing it "from your Valentine". The oldest written valentine still in existence is a poem that was written in 1415 by a British noble to his wife - he was imprisoned in the Tower of London at the time (they were famous for beheading people there, so one could see how he would be inspired to profess his undying love). Today, over one billion cards are sent out, and interestingly enough, research shows 85% are purchased by women. (Who knows how many e-cards float over the airwaves).
You can take heart if you have not bought into this holiday (no pun intended but I must admit it does fit…). Most Valentine's gifts and cards are purchased in the six days leading up to the big day. Bernard Callebaut once told me he was amazed to discover that people buying chocolates on February 15 spent much more, as they seemed to feel guilty they missed the deadline. Just remember this: There is always time to say you love someone - if February 14 makes you remember that, then "better late than never" is a good way to look at it, I think. Write it on the steamed-up bathroom mirror if you have nowhere else; just make sure you say it.
Despite what you may think, I have always been a romantic and I also know (for those more macho readers in our audience) Valentine's Day is the one day a year where if you don't screw it up you know you are going to get lucky!
I see so much low quality chocolate stuff out there all I can say is spend some money and don't give out cheap chocolate. In town you have the Callebaut store at the corner of Gordon St and Guisachan St or you have Annegrets Chocolates at 19-565 Bernard Avenue. Giving cheap chocolate to the person you love and plan to be together forever with is giving them a discounted proof of affection. Don't cut corners!
I for one on February 14th will make something out of Callebaut chocolate that is sure to score big. And, of course it will be preceded by a good dinner, a small gift and maybe a flower type thing. Bottom line if you have ever heard the saying "You are what you eat" for Valentine's day the saying is "you get what you put out". For every effort you give, you are giving her bragging rights with her friends that she did make the right choice by hooking up with you. When all her friends start telling her what their hubby did not do, she will feel like a million bucks and ultimately you will benefit from all that: (If you need a recipe, send me an e-mail).
Guys,get out there and do something.
Happy Valentine's Day to you all!
An Apple a Day…
I had a funny conversation recently with a foodie friend and there were a number of well-known expressions and sentiments we used that were transmitted with the use of food terms. That reaffirmed yet again for me just how much food is a part of our everyday lives - in ways we don't even consider. Dare I say this is food for thought, or should I rather say you would do well to take this column with a grain of salt? (I think by now you see where I am going with this… )
I entitled this week's column using that age-old phrase that has become the poster child for healthy living - and did you know that in Ancient Greece throwing an apple to a woman was a way to propose marriage? (If she caught it, it meant yes. That is one way you become the apple of someone's eye…) When the expression about keeping doctors away became popular in the 19th century, they had no scientific way of knowing that apples were healthy but they saw the proof in the pudding. (Would that have been apple pudding, I wonder??) Bad apples made their way into expressions too, and I suppose you could argue that might have been due to Eve's unfortunate experience but a more modern version seems to be the more obvious truth - spoiling a good effort only takes one small token, whether it is one apple in a barrel or one party pooper in a bunch of folks.
The apple expressions are ones that are used all the time, but with the approach of the holiday season the phrase "nuttier than a fruitcake" also came to mind, which of course then brought on all sorts of derogatory comments about fruitcake. I thought the phrase was meant to ridicule the person, and since I am one of the very few people in the world who publicly claim to enjoy fruitcake, I took offense. Fruitcake does not even have that many nuts - maybe that is why we don't call it nutcake! Just because something is not your cup of tea doesn't mean it's a recipe for disaster. Mind you, perhaps there was a crazy Christmas baker in history, for in the UK they have mincemeat, which is similar to fruitcake in its taste and ingredients and there if you say that someone is "as thick as mince" it also means they are not altogether there. (Or perhaps it was just partaking of the rum and/or brandy that the fruit soaked in that made them a bit out to lunch.)
Many idioms so seem to have a logical history to them, but there are others that seem to be more elusive. Why would we care who brought home the bacon - wouldn't we rather know who was bringing home the pork roast?(It comes from a small town in England that offered a side of bacon to any man who hadn't quarreled with his wife for a year and a day. Even then, that was something to be appreciated!) And when was the last time you tried to cut mustard? Well, if you had ever tried to cut down mustard stalks you would know how difficult it is, but if you have ever "cut" dried mustard with vinegar or water then you know too that there is a standard for getting a good final product. Aren't you glad you know those things now?
In keeping with the fall season and the resurgence of comfort foods, I will finish with a phrase I found particularly intriguing: "Fine words butter no parsnips". I looked up the background to this one and found that it dates back to 1639 when people often ate parsnips instead of potatoes. If you have tasted them before, you know that parsnips are a food that needs to be buttered (or otherwise glazed - alone, they are quite bitter). The phrase may contain the root of a broader idiom - "to butter someone up" - in that it means words are not the same as actions. You can butter someone up, but it does not necessarily mean you will convince them; only the real thing will do.
I hope this week's column has allowed you to "go to bed less stupid" as Martin says; or to give you one more expression, you can now tell people that you didn't just fall off a turnip truck!
My favorite these days is a broader saying about food: "you are what you eat". This week, I ask everyone to start looking more closely about what they eat so they can start living healthier lives.
Yes, in the old days "one apple a day keeps the doctor away" was told to us by our parents. Now parents say "kids, sugar is bad for you - buy diet coke" because they heard somewhere that sugar was the root of all evil. No, too much sugar is bad, but that does not mean cut all sugar intake and that certainly does not mean to replace it with aspartame. Did you know that aspartame is 180 times sweeter than sugar in typical concentrations, without the high energy value of sugar. Who farms it, where does it grow and are you sure that it is safe for you?
Parents should say don't drink too much pop and give their kids a choice of good juices as alternatives. Read the label and ask yourself is this farmed or made in a lab? If you don't know how it is grown (or if it has more than 24 letters!) maybe you want to rethink about eating it or giving it to your family. Eating well requires very little effort. Chemical-free food is best for you!
Who would have thought…?
You will have to forgive us the frivolity of this week's column if you feel it is a bit over the top… you see, we are both a bit overwhelmed by the work of summer and the ensuing work of harvest. As a result, we are just giving you some interesting (if possibly useless) things to think about. They could always be good conversation starters if you find yourself at an awkward dinner party!
Did you know that peanut butter was invented by a doctor who wanted his toothless patients to have something easy to eat? It was popular in the USA as far back as the 1800's but interestingly enough, before the Great Depression it was considered more of a luxury product. Nowadays, with the increase of between 130 and 330 percent of items on restaurant menus that have peanuts or peanut butter, I think it is safe to say we have moved past the ubiquitous peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Here's a good one if you believe it all: When the English colonist pilgrims sat down for their first Thanksgiving dinner in February of 1630, one of the offerings from an Indian Chief in attendance was popped corn. (I don't know whether popcorn being around at an important food occasion is the cool part of this story, or if it is more interesting that we could have had Thanksgiving in February!) Note: popcorn has actually been around for 6000 years. On September 19, 1995 a great popcorn celebrity died - Mr. Orville Redenbacher. Please have a moment of silence before you set your microwave to pop this weekend.
Something to try at a boring cocktail party: a raisin dropped in a glass of fresh champagne will bounce up and down continually on the bubbles. (If this doesn't work, you can always just say you need a fresher glass!)
Okay, I am sure you can have fun with this: "In the Middle Ages, chicken soup was considered an aphrodisiac." Is that what all that talk about Chicken Soup for the Soul really means? (wink wink) One wonders - does this mean they didn't have much imagination when it came to setting a mood, or that they had plenty?
Lastly, here is one that begs the question, who got paid to figure this out and what were they trying to prove? Talk about having an interesting job…
"If Jello is hooked up to an EEG (heart monitor), it registers movements virtually identical to the brain waves of a healthy adult."
I hope these little tidbits will give you some fun simple moments to share with a friend or family member. Think of them as no-calorie ways to use food as a stress reliever!
Are you a food snob?
I read an article this week in the New York Times that mentioned university students are now checking out the quality of the cafeteria as another way to decide which campus to attend. I know I am getting older when I read that and remember that the thing we loved about the cafeteria when I went to school was the cinnamon buns for 99 cents! Are the young adults of today becoming food snobs?
It must be said that not all educational institutions in the article had the budget to explore serving "low carbon meals using local and organic food" or "whole Maine lobster, New York strip and rib-eye steaks cooked how you want them". I will also mention I don't think it's at all bad that students get to eat quality food and a variety of it. Perhaps this culinary education is just an extension of the expectations for today's youth. They need to know about restaurant quality food because that will likely be a part of how they advance in their careers and even their life. Committing a faux pas at a "wine and dine" type interview could be the career-limiting move that used to come from wearing the wrong suit or telling the wrong joke.
Now I must ask the burning question however: will this movement to food awareness mean that the pendulum will swing and the propensity for being overweight and out of shape will become a thing of the past for future North American adults? One could always hope, don't you think? Maybe we could carry things a step further and require a part of the curriculum to deal with supporting local growers, so as to sustain a better community close to home? I guess that is probably getting a bit to far from the centre line … after all, you can ban trans fats in New York restaurants where LuluLemon has lobbying power to show off their clothing in a suitable percentage of shapely bodies, but you are not going to make that happen nationwide.
The nostalgic part of me will be sad to see the dying out of such student stand-bys as no-bake cookies and toaster oven pizza, but suppose it is for a good cause. As I read over my ramblings it occurs to me that this whole topic is a bit absurd when there are places in the world where children don't have anything to eat at all, or any education beyond what the world throws at them. I will take solace in hoping that the everlasting quality of youth, that insatiable curiosity and desire to question, will go beyond the niceties we are talking about this week and delve into more serious issues. If we nourish their brains they have the best potential to extend their questions beyond "Can we have chocolate pumpkin muffins?" And if us old fogies who run the halls of wisdom make them think the way scholars of old did, we won't always answer their questions the way the one quoted above was answered in a university dining hall: "Please expect to see them every Monday morning."
Coming from Quebec, the system was a bit different for me. When I was in high school, there was a cafeteria serving meals prepared by the students in the culinary program. It was a great system, as the culinary students learned to create great meals, and the other students benefited in buying their creations. I tasted "Coq au Vin" for the first time when I was in grade 10.
We also had a private dining room restaurant operated by the students in the hospitality department and the other cooks that were not working at the cafeteria. The only down side with this one was that it was mostly for teachers, so not many students would venture inside at lunch hour mostly because they did not want to have lunch face to face with their math or science teachers. My daughter goes to private school in Vancouver where they don't have a cafeteria that serves meals so all students either "brown bag it" or go out to the local restaurants to eat. Peer pressure has its advantages; Chloae has developed a taste for Sushi and Indian food, of which she was not a big fan before going to that school. So they do learn something at school after all.
You know brown bagging it is fine as long as you take some time to think about buying good ingredients to make good quality food. Wraps, paninis, bagels, baguettes or even foccacia beats the commercial white sliced bread that I was subject to from my wonderful mom.
You know, if you cook good quality dinners then leftovers can be taken to school often if you make a few extra portions. The best way to have your children eat good food is to train them as early as possible to appreciate good quality meals, so they don't settle for the vending machines.
I also think that most obesity issues from our youth today is totally related to bad eating habits perpetuated from home to school - not enough control on the children while they are away from home. If they have already learned to eat good food on a regular basis, they can survive anywhere when they finally leave the nest.
Are you my Mother?
With Mother's Day approaching this Sunday, I was remembering times with my Mom and thinking of all the things I loved. I will admit here that I was most fortunate as my Mom loved being a Mom and she was able to stay home while my brother and I were small so we got lots of quality time with her. One of the things that I loved was her reading to us and one of the series of books she read was Dr. Seuss. I think I could sum up the philosophy she tried to teach us from the themes of those books, as they cover everything from how to eat to how to imagine your dreams. There is even one that talks about how to know your mother!
I knew my mother by all the things she did for us, and with us. We may not have had green eggs and ham, but I do remember being told to try foods like green peppers and finding out they weren't so bad after all. We may not have lived on Mulberry Street, but she showed us the way so that we could see fantastical things that others might not have when we were out walking. She taught us about words and places and history like she was our very own Cat in the Hat, and with her Christmas spirit she could have made the Grinch's heart swell just like Suzy Lou Who if he had come to our house! So when we read "Are You My Mother?" and followed the little bird who fell from the nest, I was very secure. I wasn't like him, not knowing how to recognize my Mom - there were lots of ways I knew to distinguish her from the crowd, and I was very proud that my Mom was who she was. I am glad that even though I have never had any two-legged kids that I remembered the things she taught me. Thanks for making me a better person, Mom. You taught me about enjoying the art of cooking, and about enjoying the flowers even on a cloudy day, and you taught me to value myself and other people for their own unique skills. You always made us remember that just like Horton said, "A person's a person, no matter how small."
So, here's to Moms out there - you come in all shapes and sizes and you teach us all kinds of things. We may not know right away the value of it all, but please remember that someday we will see the light and think of the time when you showed us the secret of how to enjoy being a grown up.
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