Food Musings

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

The Gift of Giving

December22

My favourite kind of cookbooks are the ones that include personal reflections and anecdotes about a person’s life and their relationship with food.  I have received one such collection this Christmas from my Mom-in-law and I wanted to share this Christmas story with you.

“If everything special, warm, and happy in my formative years could have been consolidated into one word, that word would have been Christmas.  So, by the time the building blocks of my days had piled themselves into something as formidable as late adolescence, Christmas had a lot to live up to.

Christmas, by then, meant fireplaces and the bustle of a big, excited family complete with aunts, uncles and cousins.  It meant great smells from the kitchen, home-made bread, and cranberries bubbling on the stove, pumpkin pies and turkey. It meant Grandma’s cheery voice raising to be the first to holler “Christmas gift!” as we came in the door.  It meant real cedar Christmas trees, handmade foil ornaments, and lots of secrets.  It meant unfolding in the arms of our great family the lonely or forsaken of our village who had no place to go.  It meant all the good and lovely things we said about Christmas being in your heart and the joy being in giving.

Then came another year.

There were many things that conspired to bring me to the situation in which I would test all my glibly accepted theories.  Grandma was gone, leaving in my heart a vacuum that wouldn’t go away.  My sister was married now and had the responsibility of sharing her holidays with her husband’s family.  The other relatives were far away …… I wasn’t there when they moved from the parsonage to a tiny cottage at the lake that a concerned businessman had helped them build.  Nor was I prepared that winter day for the barrenness that can be found only in resort  areas build for summer fun.

There was no fireplace.  There was no bustle of a big excited family.  Gone was the sense of tradition and history that only the aged can provide, and gone was the thrill of the immediate future that comes with the breathless anticipation of children.

The dinner was going to be small, just the three of us, and there just wasn’t any ring in the brave attempt at shouting “Christmas gift!” that Mother made as I came in the door.  Daddy suggested that because I’d always loved it, he and I should go to the woods to cut our own tree.  I knew that now, of all times, I could not let my disappointment show.  I put on my boots and my cheeriest face, and off through the knee-deep snow we trudged into the Michigan woods.  My heart was heavy, and I knew that Mother was back at the stove fighting back the tears-for all that was not there. 

There was a loveliness as the forest lay blanketed in its heavy comforter of snow, but there was not a comforter to wrap around the chill in my heart.  Daddy whistled as he chopped the small cedar tree.  (He always whistled when there was something bothering him).  As the simple tuneless melody cut though the silent frozen air, I got a hint of the quiet burdens adults carry, and for the first time felt myself on the brink of becoming one.  So as I picked up the end of the scraggy, disappointingly small cedar, I also picked up my end of grown-up responsibility.

I felt the times shift.  I was no longer a child to be sheltered and cared for and entertained.  My folks had put good stuffing in me.  Now, as I trudged back through the snow, watching the back of my father’s head, his breath making smoke signals in the morning air, the weary curve of his shoulders, I vowed to put some good stuff back into their lives.  The day was somehow different after that.  We sat around our little table, stringing cranberries and making foil cut outs.  This time it was not the activity of a child but sort of a ceremonial tribute to the child I somehow could never again afford to be and the people who had filled that childhood with such wealth and beauty.”

Excerpt from Gloria Gaither “He started the whole world singing”

Kath’s quote:“There is nothing sadder in this world than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child.”-Erma Bombeck

Mexican Flan

December21

I could be getting up to date on the Winnipeg restaurant reports that I have piling up but I can’t stop dreaming of our upcoming time on Isla Mujeres. 

Maria

One of the most wonderful aspects about our precious Isla Mujeres is that islanders are known by their food specialties: there is Tony the Rib man, D’s favourite Juice man, Maria the Pepita lady and The Flan Lady.  We pass the latter on our walk to and from the zocalo.  She has a cart which she parks outside of her house and it is illuminated by a single light bulb.  I am more inclined to go for a coconut ice cream or lime Popsicle but for some reason, I can’t stop thinking about the flan lady.

Juice Man

I am quite certain that this is not the recipe that she follows.  This one comes from Cocina Islena, Recipes from the Kitchens of Isla Mujeres-a fund-raiser by PEACE Isla Mujeres:

“Flan is a recipe that dates back to ancient Rome.  It was during Roman times that domesticated chickens were first kept for laying eggs.  The Romans, with eggs in surplus, along with the Greek’s knowledge of the art of cooking, developed new recipes-one of which turned out to be this custardy misture known as flan.  It was originally a savoury dish (not sweet but similar to quiche fillings and frittatas).  Flan survived the fall of the Roman Empire, medieval times, and eventually was taken to the new world by the Spanish.  The Spanish version is sweet instead of savory, and is now especially associated with Mexico.

1 c sugar

12 oz. evaporated milk

14 oz. sweetened condensed milk

3/4 c milk

3 large eggs

3 egg yolks

2 t vanilla

1 c Media Crema (substitute: equal parts sour cream & heavy cream)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Make the caramel:  Have ready a deep 9 inch glass pie plate and a pair of oven mitts.  Pour the sugar into a small heavy saucepan.  Set it over medium-low heat until the sugar starts to liquefy and form clumps.  Stir slowly and constantly; the sugar will eventually liquefy completely and then begin to colour.  Pay careful attention to the caramel at this point; once it starts to colour, it will darken quickly.  Remove the pan from the heat when the caramel is the colour of a bright, shiny penny.  Scrape all the caramel into the pan, put on the mitts, and grab the pie plate firmly.  Carefully but quickly rotate the pan so the bottom and halfway up the sides of the plate are coated with caramel.  Set the prepared pan in a shallow roasting pan.

 Fill a kettle with water and bring to a boil.  Meanwhile, combine the evaporated milk, condensed milk, milk, eggs, yolks and vanilla in a blender jar.  Blend on a very low speed a few seconds, just until the eggs are blended,  Add the Media Crema and blend a few seconds, until smooth.  Let stand for 1 minute, and then skim off any foam that rises to the surface.

Slide the oven rack out halfway and set the roasting pan with the caramel-lined pie plate on the rack.  Pour the custard mix into the pie plate.  Pour enough water from the kettle to the roasting pan to come halfway up the side of the plate.  Bake about 1 hour until the centre of the flan is set.

Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature in the water bath.  Refigerate until completely chilled, at least 2 hours or up to 1 day.

 To serve, centre a large plate over the flan and with one quick flip, invert the pan over the plate.  Give it a few seconds; the flan will slip right out of the mold and onto the plate.  Scrape any caramel left in the mold over the flan.  Serve chilled.  Serves 8.”

Kath’s quote: “Custard:  A detestable substance produced by a malevolent conspiracy of the hen, the cow, and the cook.”-Ambrose Bierce

On the First Day of Christmas

December19

Our first family Christmas of the season has come and gone.  It was a whirlwind of embraces, teasing, laughter and more embraces.  D’s family is knit together by one amazing women. 

Grandma J came home one day from her son’s basketball game to find that her husband had packed a bag and left.  She had no job, very little education and seven kids to fend for.  So she went looking for a job doing the only thing that she really knew how to do-cook for a crowd.

Fast forward thirty years and J is now remarried, spending her summers visiting various family members, kids and  grandkids and her winters in Texas.  If anyone deserves a quiet retirement it is Grandma J.  But J is not yet retired-she makes Christmas her full-time occupation.  She will start shopping for Christmas 2012, today.

We sat the dining room with three banquet tables (another 12 were sat up on the 2nd floor)

Six members of the family were not present this year and I am sure that she mailed those off to Phoenix last week.  The rest of us (32 to be exact) each opened a very large box and inside were a number of other little wrapped packets.  Mine included a book and book mark, a scented candle, bath gel, an embroidered nightgown and an aloe plant with a hand carved hovering hummingbird.  Imagine going to this much trouble with this much thoughtfulness, for 34 people! 

Part of the gang filing downstairs for grace

Another amazing thing about this year’s Christmas story was that we all fit into our just purchased 100 year old house.  I think D saw us gathered there before we had even signed the offer to purchase.

So this year it wasn’t so much about the secret ingredients in the stuffing (pecans and apricots) or the pumpkin, apple and pecan pies that Grandma J bakes and drives in from the county in a specially designed pie rack.  It was about being together in one place, each of us opening packets of love and remembering the reason for the season.

Kath’s quote: “This aniversary is memorable (apart from all religious significance) because it evokes a great slaughter of turkeys, geese and all kinds of game, a wholesale massacre of fat oxen, pigs and sheep; they envisage garlands of black puddings, sausages and saveloys . . . mountains of plum-puddings and oven-fulls of mince-pies….       On that day no one in England may go hungry …. This is a family gathering, and on every table the same menu is prepared. A joint of beef, a turkey or goose, which is usually the pièce de résistance, accompanied by a ham, sausages and game; then follow the inevitable plum-pudding and the famous mince pies.”-Alfred Suzanne

A gift of love was delivered to all mankind 2000 years ago

The Current Revisited

December16

Our original plans had been foiled and we were looking for a convenient (parking) but upscale spot to have a celebratory girl’s lunch.  The Current at Inn at the Forks turned out to be a perfect spot.  I have been to this beautifully appointed restaurant a number of times before and each time, I am escorted to exactly the same table.  And so on this day, I felt right at home.

Laura is a chicken and turkey salad aficionado and she declared The Current’s to meet her high standards.  Their chefs include tarragon and toasted walnuts.  I noticed that something was topping the mixture and it was a grilled Granny Smith apple slice.  This came with fantastic french fries and a just- made savory gravy.  I am especially complimentary about the fries to justify my reaching across the table to Laura’s plate on repeated occasions.

Karen went for the Moroccan Chicken Burger which would definitely get my vote next visit.  The spicy chicken breast was accompanied by a green apple and rhubarb chutney, brie and a coriander mayo.  She chose a crisp Caesar salad to go alongside.

When I am dining, I often don’t make a decision until the server comes to the table.  I declare to lunch dates that “I like to work under pressure” but the true reason is that when confronted with a decision, the most spontaneous answer is almost always the correct one.  In this case, I over thought my decision.  I was really tempted by the pickerel and chips but thought that I should make a “lighter” choice.  So I ordered a shrimp omelette that came with spring greens.  

My Dad showed me very early in life, how to prepare perfectly scrambled eggs and omelettes.  The eggs are to be lightly and quickly whisked  so as to introduce air and infiltrate the yolk and white, but not so much so that they are over mixed as they will become tough.  In addition, I like my eggs to always be served wet as a dry egg is an overcooked egg (imho).  Perhaps this was the case with my choice that day.  I twittered the restaurant to ask if they happen to use a pre-mixed product and Ben assured me that they use only vita fresh eggs.  

With our timelines, the choice was perfect as the server was accommodating and efficient and we enjoyed a lovely visit in a equally lovely locale.

The Current on Urbanspoon

Kath’s quote: “I have had, in my time, memorable meals of scrambled eggs with fresh truffles, scrambled eggs with caviar and other glamorous things, but to me, there are few things as magnificent as scrambled eggs, pure and simple, perfectly cooked and perfectly seasoned.”-James Beard

 

How to Build Community

December15

I suppose it is no surprize to my readers that I describe myself as a hippie (both physically and philosophically).  I am a peace, love and groovy, kind of person.  Recently, we purchased a big old house where 5 people will live communally.  I purchased a card for them to have in the house and as I reread it today, I realize that the wisdom is applicable to life itself.

How to Build Community

  • turn off your TV
  • leave your house
  • know your neighbours
  • look up when you are walking
  • greet people

  • sit on your front steps
  • plant flowers

  • play together
  • use your library
  • buy from local merchants
  • share what you have

  • help a dog
  • take children to the park
  • garden together
  • support neighbourhood schools
  • fix it even if you didn’t break it
  • have pot lucks
  • honour your elders
  • pick up litter
  • read stories aloud
  • dance in the street
  • talk to the letter carrier
  • listen to the birds

  • put up a swing
  • help carry something heavy
  • barter for your goods
  • start a tradition
  • ask a question
  • hire young people for odd jobs
  • organize a block party
  • bake extra and share
  • ask for help when you need it
  • open your curtains
  • sing together
  • share your skills
  • take back the night
  • turn up the music
  • turn down the music
  • listen before you react in anger
  • mediate a conflict
  • seek to understand
  • learn from new and uncomfortable angles
  • know that no one is silent though many are not heard-work to change this

Kath’s quote: “Food is our common ground, a universal experience.”-James Beard

« Older EntriesNewer Entries »