Food Musings

A Winnipeg blog about the joy of preparing food for loved ones and the shared joy that travel & dining brings to life.

2013 May Long Weekend

May20

Today is the last day of the first three day weekend of lake season.  On the Canadian prairies this is typically the time when summer cottages are opened for the season.  Many cottage owners draw their water from a pointy pipe driven into the sand where the water table sits.  Typically by May long weekend, the water has melted sufficiently to be drawn up through the pipe.  Once the water is hooked up, the summer can officially begin.

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There are nine of us and three dogs in our 500 square foot cabin-thank heavens the rains have stayed away.  Currently a beer tasting is going on the front deck.  This is official research for J1’s brew master’s course.

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The weekend has been relatively laid back with walks, naps, movies, books, amazing food, beverages and visits with extended family members (we have three cottages on the same road).

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There have been three major foodies finds over the weekend.  Sister #2 has discovered a mini omelet made in a muffin tin.  She precooked red peppers, sausage and bacon and then placed these with green onion and shredded cheddar into the bottom of a muffin tin lined with papers.   She then poured in the eggs and baked them just before the masses gathered around the dining table on the front deck.  She made extra to freeze for her husband who often stays up at the lake to work on the construction of a new cottage.

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The second find, occurred when our gang was put in charge of Sunday supper.  Daughter #2 and The Frenchman made a couple of their delicious and nutritious super salads and J1 and J2 assembled the ingredients for prime bib burgers and smokies.  Daughter #1 was in charge of toppers and the big hit were the Durkee crispy fried onions that smacked on flavour and crunch.  Once you selected your meat choice you placed it on a multi-grain tortilla and added your toppings.  Then your selected was wrapped up and placed back on the grill for a second round, thereby melding the flavours together and melting the cheese.  Choosing a tortilla to encase everything, significantly cuts down the carbs and calories, even of a PC thin burger or hot dog bun.

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I contributed the desert and it was the perfect opportunity to try out my new sugar cookie recipe using Monk Fruit In the Raw sugar substitute and cutting the sugar content in half.   There were many accolades for the buttery taste of the cookie itself and everyone noticed how the reduced sugar did not jeopardize the taste in the least.  They retained a crispy “snap” to them like a ginger cookie.

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Spring takes a long time to arrive on the Canadian prairies and this year, even more so.  The trees are just now starting to sprout their summer foliage.  The green hue is bright and alive and unique to the spring.  In honour of this lovely occurrence, our delicious cookies were decorated accordingly.

Kath’s quote: “Of all the wonders of nature, a tree in summer is perhaps the most remarkable; with the possible exception of a moose singing ‘Embraceable You’ in spats.”
Woody Allen

Love-that is all.

Guest Blogger: Sister #3-Dinner at Mango Cafe, Isla Mujeres

May17

Mango Café (found in Colonia Meterorologico on Isla Mujeres, Mexico) is infamous as a great place for breakfast.  Our first ever visit to Mango was for dinner on the equally infamous Jamaican Night hosted every Monday.

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I love Mango.  The owner Polo is a great host and the food is fantastic. I make a point of making at least one stop there every trip but it occurred to me that I have never tried their regular dinner menu. I was so over the moon with their Jamaican food and breakfast items, how could I have overlooked an opportunity to sample even more of their fare?

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The menu at dinner is not extensive, but I am a firm believer in doing less and doing it really well, instead of doing lots and it being just OK.  We were a party of seven and most of us ordered different items, so this meant I got a look at almost every item on the menu.

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We started with a couple of orders of Tostones for the table.  These yummy fried plantains were topped with a green apple guacamole, an interesting twist on tradition.

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For our mains the boys ordered Ajilla catch of the day in a garlic and gualillo chili sauce and chicken stuffed with guava paste, cream cheese and chaya, a Mexican green thought to be a super food.

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Two of the girls ordered enchiladas and tropical fish stuffed with crab, shrimp and cheese topped with a pepita (pumpkin seed) sauce.

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Three of us wanted to try the chicken skewers served with coconut peanut sauce.  My friends made a special request to have a side of rice to make this appetizer into a light meal.  I, on the other hand, added another appetizer to make mine dinner.

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I tried the jalapeno peppers stuffed with goat cheese and blue cheese and topped with bacon.  These were served with two dips; habenero jelly and tamarind balsamic dressing.

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As we were celebrating the recent nuptials of friends who joined us for dinner, we decided we had to conclude the evening with a couple desserts and seven forks.  We had the cheese cake which was scrumptious; served on a chocolate crust topped with strawberries and sauce. We all love the coconut crusted French toast at Mango for breakfast and at dinner they turn this delicacy into dessert by topping it with vanilla ice-cream and caramel sauce, calling it Mango toast and cream.

The attention to detail in the food at Mango is exemplary.  Even the beverages were a delight.  Many of us enjoyed the ginger lemonade and a few others ordered a variety of agua frescas, refreshing fruit waters made with everything from watermelon to hibiscus flower.

I know that next year I will have to be back for breakfast but will also return for dinner.  Only problem is I just noticed a lunch menu packed with items I’ve yet to try.  So much food, so little time!

Kath’s quote: “One way can be learned by starting to see the magic in everything. Sometimes it seems to be hiding but it is always there. The more we can see the magic in one thing, a tiny flower, a mango, someone we love, then the more we are able to see the magic in everything and in everyone. Where does the mango stop and the sky begin?”- Joshua Kadison

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Love-that is all.

“The Food of Love”-Anthony Capella

May16

I received a stack of food-centric fiction from the library recently and since this title was such an obvious fit for this space, I read Anthony Capella’s work first.  The story is set in Italy which also checks off another box for me.  The premise is a Cyrano de Bergerac tale and I adore stories of unrequited love: “to love pure and chaste from afar….”  The sexual recounting was a wee bit too explicit for my liking, but keep in mind that I grew up on Harlequin romances, where somehow the single kiss and embrace at the stories’ end was the hottest thing that I could imagine.  What kept me reading through the uncomfortable pages was the author’s ease with the character’s culinary adventures.  Here is an excerpt from Chapter 9, pages 111-112 (photos are mine).

He had placed a large wooden bowl on top of his work surface.  Handmade pasta is never prepared on marble; its coldness stiffens the dough and prevents the breakdown of glutens.  A pile of Tipo 00, the finest grade of flour, stood to one side, light as ash, its top gently flattened to make a small crater.

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Into this he poured some beaten eggs.  Drawing the flour over the egg mixture with the tines of a fork, he worked the two together a little at a time.

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Then he put the fork aside and started to use his fingers.

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Gradually the sliminess of the eggs and the dryness of the flour became one smooth, muscular mass, worked and reworked until there was no trace of stickiness.

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After he washed and dried his hands, he was able to press his thumb into the mixture and pull it out again without the dough clinging to his skin at all.

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Using the heel of his palm, he pushed the dough away from him, then folded it over.  A quick half turn, and then he did the same again, slowly breaking down its inner resistance.  Push, fold, turn.  Push, fold, turn.  Pasta making is a ritual, both in the kneading and in the stretching, the same hand motions performed over and over again, as automatic and precise as the movements of a master plasterer or a pianist.  Bruno kept up his kneading for exactly eight minutes.  It was hard, physical work, and he was soon perspiring freely, but slowly the dough became elastic, its surface as smooth as Laura’s skin.

After about fifteen minutes, he returned to his dough, squashed it down a little, and picked up his pasta rolling pin.  It was as long as a sword-thirty-two inches, to be precise-and thinner than a conventional rolling pin, so that it would spin more quickly between his hands as he pushed it over the pasta.  The trick was not to use force.  You were not so much squeezing the pasta flat as pushing it gently outward, like spreading icing across the surface of a cake.

When the rolled dough was the size of a pizza base, he changed the movements of his hands, letting them slide sideways along the pin as he worked, distributing pressure evenly along its length.  This was the hardest part.  Bruno knew he was not as good at this as a housewife somewhere in Emilia-Romagna, who did it every day of her life, but there was no time to be cautious.  If he went too slowly, the pasta would lose its moisture and crack before he was done.  He felt his way into the dough, stretching it little by little off the table each time he rolled it.  It was time to stop and cut the pasta into tortellini.

Kath’s quote: I remember the meals that were meant to dazzle you, to excite you, to comfort you, even to seduce you.  But there was never a single dish or recipe that was designed to tell you the simple truth….I’ve always loved you.” Anthony Capella

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Love-that is all.  Photo taken at the Valentine’s day dinner that D prepared for me…

Easter Remembered

May15

Are you looking forward to the May long weekend?  So am I (in spite of the forecast of rain) but first I am compelled to write about our glorious Easter dinner.  Somehow, it doesn’t seem fitting that I would allow anymore time to pass.

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J1 and J2 (our son and daughter in law) whom I sometime call Daughter #3 in this space, are expecting their first child this summer.  This is significant for so many reasons: 1) they lost a pre-born baby that we mourned greatly 2) he/she will be our first grandchild and 3) this child physically embodies a long friendship that began with J2’s family, even before J1 and J2 were a couple.  Their marriage joined us emotionally and legally but this first shared grand-baby will mix our flesh, blood and genetics.  Our families consistently have Easter dinner together-even last year when D and I were in Ireland and J2’s Mom and Dad were also traveling.

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J1 and J2 have an enormous dining room (bigger than either of their parents) which have hosted many wonderful dinners but never one with just the two families.  To further enhance the dining space there is an adjoining butler’s pantry, where the dishes which have all be contributed by family members, can be laid out for self-service.

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We happily blend the traditions of the two families together:

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with ham, they always serve a hot curried fruit

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and in ours we serve scalloped potatoes, candied yams and a special mustard sauce.

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There are always roasted veggies.

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These food traditions have unified us over the years AND it makes planning and preparing for such a dinner, a breeze.  J2 was in charge of set up and J1 for clean up.

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He got lots of help from dishwashers Serena and Emanuel, a roommate whom was living in the house, but has since returned to her home outside of Paris.  Sister #3 also joined us on this day, as well as one of J2’s brothers (pictured in the foreground).  I didn’t get a photo of her eldest brother as he arrived after eating had commenced, fresh from a round trip in Western Canada with his band.

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These are our dear friends whom we will share the blessings of being Grandparents with

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and this is J2’s gorgeous sister whom also happens to be our Goddaughter.

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We spent hours at the dining room table that day.  After our exquisite supper, the gluten free brownies came out as well as Sister’s #3’s Easter cupcakes.  Another tradition from J2’s family is the setting of china tea cups for a post-dinner cuppa.

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When there were more guests than J1 and J2 originally anticipated being interested in coffee, J1 headed out the door to his friend’s shop-Thom Bargen’s.  This is a typical J1 move-the perfect host and provider.

Since this dinner together, one of J2’s brothers has moved to St. Louis to attend med school and her sister will be transplanting herself too, to enroll into a Dance Fine Arts degree program at a western Canadian university.  My oh my, change happens so quickly-who knew that this would be the last time that we would be altogether like this, for a very long while.

Kath’s quote: “Nothing is constant, except change.” Author unknown.

Love-that is all.

2013 Isla Mujeres-Dinner at Hortencia’s

May14

I wrote this in my travel journal the morning after we had spent a very special evening:

As you know I have been traveling every year to Isla Mujeres since 2005 and I can honestly say that last evening was the most precious of a string of pearls that I call my Isla Memories.  I have seen the saying “Mi Cusa Es Su Casa” on many ceramic plaques.  I have purchased one for a friend and another one sits at my own front door.  But I have never truly understood the meaning until last evening.

I have written in the space about our dressmaker friend Hortencia: how she will allow you to select a pareo and when you return the next day, have a sun dress whipped up and waiting for you, matching shawl and all.  I have also made reference to her children and her adorable grandchildren.  We know Hortencia well enough by now, to know that she and her husband have worked hard to raise their family and to provide in a manner that all parents hope for. 

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I have imagined Hortencia in her kitchen, as I have caught glimpses of the lunches that she has packed for her family, so that they can have a nutritious meal right at the store and not interrupt the flow of shoppers or disappoint anybody if she is not on site.  Last night I got to see Hortencia’s kitchen. 

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It is truly a perfectly planned room, set away from the rest of the house with only a doorway in and out of the outdoor space that sits at the back of the house.  This way when Hortencia is cooking for her family (who all still reside with she and Papi), she will not heat up the rest of the house. 

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She took the day off from the market stall yesterday, to do what we understand is a rare thing indeed.  She stayed home to watch over a pot of love-her own mole recipe.  The chicken must have simmered for hours as it was so tender, not in a stewed way but a moist, baked one. She served the casserole with a beautifully flavoured rice, her own guacamole, homemade tortilla chips, pickled peppers and huge stacks of tortillas.

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The meal was absolutely delicious by any standards, but in truth, it had nothing to do with the taste of the ingredients because you could literally taste the love-the love of us, her Canadian friends, the love of her family (standing at a separate table so that we her guests could sit around her big dining table), the love of her Island and her country.  

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The evening passed with jokes and stories animated with huge gestures to get the point across.  Simple English was spoken by Hortencia and her family.   Simple Spanish was streamed through Sister #3, Miguel, Dona and Paula all having worked hard to immerse themselves in the romantic language.  And thank heavens they had, because their contribution to the enjoyment of the evening for us all, was immense. 

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We are a pack of travelling pet lovers and are all missing our babies back home.  Hortencia’s household is shared by two adorable Chihuahuas and a muscular and handsome pit bull.  So many of us got our canine snuggles in with the Chihuahuas nestling their noses under elbows and the pit bull guiding Sister #2’s hand back to the spot on his chest where he loved to be nuzzled.

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At some point in the evening Hortencia’s son got out their huge family album to walk us through the faces and history of his family.  We too, went back through our archived photos on our digital cameras to provide images of our huge family assembled for a recent wedding.

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We were reluctant to leave, but the kids needed to get to bed and all the adults obviously put in very long days.  We thought Hortencia might be tired but she laughingly admitted that she was “frio” (chilly).  Not surprisingly, we Canadians thought that the weather was pretty much perfect. Brother K gallantly offered his Winnipeg Jets jackets which she graciously accepted. 

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We hadn’t known what to bring that would be a gesture of gratitude for the hospitality.  We didn’t want to insult the family by brining food, so we amassed a huge bouquet of flowers and toys for the grandkids.  How do you adequately thank someone who wants you to truly feel as if their home is your home?

Kath’s quote:“The home should be the treasure chest of living.”Le Corbusier

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Love-that is all.

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