Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Comfort Food

Michael's Grandmother passed away yesterday and all I can think about are salmon sandwiches. I know that's weird and kind of unsettling but somehow all roads lead to food in my world. I didn't know Michael's grandmother very well, truthfully we only met a few times and we never shared a salmon sandwich but she held a very special place in Michael's heart. When he talks of her I always am reminded of my own Gran and how I adored her. Those memories bring me around to Salmon Sandwiches.

My Gran used to make sandwiches for the Legion. I used to love going to that big industrial kitchen with her during summer vacation. My job was to lay out the bread and spread the butter. We would make sandwiches all morning, for lunches and celebrations and funeral receptions. In her kitchen at home we would make sandwiches too, sandwiches for church meetings, teas and funeral receptions. My grandmother had a great fondness for funeral receptions, she used to sneak into receptions of strangers when she was a kid. "Just for the sandwiches." she would say "Funerals have the best sandwiches." Tiny pinwheel sandwiches with creamed cheese and cherries and dainty egg salad and cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off.

Then there was the Salmon Sandwich. We often enjoyed 'everyday' salmon sandwiches at the kitchen table. Sandwiches made with the world's best white bread spread with Sherwood Dairy butter and pink salmon dressed with miracle whip, salt, pepper, minced onion and a splash of white vinegar sprinkled from the 7up bottle with the daisy sprinkler top on it. Those were some great sandwiches. Served on a paper towel and washed down with a tiny glass of milk or Re'monade. As much as I loved those sandwiches there was something better...the funeral Salmon Sandwich, made with the same care, technique and attention. The only difference was the salmon. Sockeye! In the back of my Gran's cupboard, behind the tins of pink salmon were cans and cans of Sockeye Salmon; dark, rich, coral coloured luxury. Sockeye was expensive by home-economic standards which made it special. Gran would always stock up when the A&P hosted a sale. Death is the only certainty in life and there had better be Sockeye Salmon in the cupboard in case it happens. As I got older I knew that if I wanted a salmon sandwich at Gran's and there was only Sockeye in the cupboard I better get out the peanut butter.

If ever I walked into the kitchen and saw empty Sockeye tins at the sink side, waiting to be crushed, I would ask "who died?" Gran always chuckled, then proceeded with the obituary. Most of the people I didn't know, but I was always touched by the comfort my Gran could offer though a simple sandwich on white bread.

When my Gran passed away I only had one request, that Sockeye Sandwiches be served at her funeral luncheon. There was, after all, no more fitting way to honour her than with her own method of comforting others.

So today, I think I will find the time to make up some Sockeye sandwiches and offer up some of my Gran to help Michael with the loss of his own.

Michael & his Lovely Gran
Eat well, Live well, Laugh often


Michelle

Sunday, July 24, 2011

It's Salad that Makes A Sandwich in the Park a Picnic!

Saturday found us enjoying one of the greatest joys of summer...a Picnic! This one was in celebration of our dear Rebecca's Sweet Sixteen but I will concede that no cause is really required to put me out of doors to eat. Once the idea gets into my head it's not long before I get into the kitchen and the salads start coming together. I really only have to worry about salads, Michael controls the fire and the protein, mother-nature takes care of dessert...aren't watermelons wonderful! Picnic salads should always be wilt free, fuss free, eat'em how you get'em and in great abundance so that there are left overs to be enjoyed for days to come.

On the picnic salad menu for this weekend's converge on the park....Asian Coleslaw, Coconut Rice Salad, Broccoli Salad and the all-time picnic must have, Old-fashion Potato Salad.

Broccoli Salad
Broccoli salad

  • 2 bunches of broccoli
  • 4 strips of bacon cubed
  • 1 thinly sliced med sized onion - red or white
  • generous handful of roasted, salted sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tbls. white vinegar
  • 2 tbls white sugar




  • Prepare the broccoli by breaking the crown into bite sized florets (save the stalks for a dish later in the week) submerge the florets in a bath of ice water while preparing the rest of the salad. Usually by the time the ice has melted, the ice bath has done it's trick.(this will boost the crunch on the broccoli, a great tip for all kinds of vegetables, especially if they have gotten a little tired in your fridge crisper)
  • Crisp fry the bacon and transfer it to cool completely on paper towel, which will also absorbed any excess grease.
  • In a small bowl whisk together the mayonnaise, vinegar and sugar.
  • Drain the broccoli
  • In a large bowl toss together the broccoli, onion, cooled bacon, sunflower seeds and mayonnaise dressing. Give it a good stir and put it in the fridge. This salad only gets better with hours, give it a stir and a taste every once in a while...you'll see what I mean.
A great addition to this is cubes of good cheddar cheese if you are in the mood.

Next recipe...

I have to organize my thoughts a little on this one. Michael is a self proclaimed potato-holic and as such I have learned so many ways to prepare potatoes and potato salad that I could probably write a blog just on the subject of potatoes! I have learned one thing though; as much as my family enjoys not so traditional potato salads, our larger gatherings are always just a little disappointed when I choose to make a Dijon/sherry dressed new potato salad over the traditional creamy picnic kind of legend. So today the good old fashioned stick to your ribs potato salad.

Old-fashion Potato Salad
Old-Fashioned Potato Salad

  • *10 cups of washed potatoes cut into 1/2" sized cubes.
  • 2 stalks of celery diced
  • 1 med sized onion diced.
  • 1/2 cup diced garlic dill pickle
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup dill pickle brine
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 pepper

  • Boil potatoes until just soft. (prick the potatoes with the tip of a sharp knife - you can feel when the potato is cooked through but still firm) remove and drain the potatoes. rest the colander over the empty cooking pot and and let the potatoes dry a bit from the heat. do not rinse the potatoes or cool the potatoes you want them hot.
  • While the potatoes are cooking mix together the balance of the ingredients. (Really, a recipe doesn't get any easier does it!) The dressing at this point will be rather runny and not what you would expect would produce that creamy potato salad goodness we're after...just wait!
  • Add the hot potatoes into the dressing mixture and stir well to coat. The hot potatoes will act like a sponge and soak up all that yummy dressing. Suddenly that runny-ish dressing will become creamy goodness, thanks to the starch in the potatoes! cover the salad and let the fridge do the rest of the work. This is one salad that improves with age. That is what makes it perfect for lazy eating and leftovers. It needs a gentle stir from time to time and a good one just before serving. If you find at any point that the dressing had gotten a little too stiff you can add a splash of milk to bring it back.
*Any potato makes a great salad, I only peel them if they are old crop with the tougher skins. Today I used red and Yukon varieties, which was a nice mix. Be sure to cook the potatoes in separate pots as they will cook at different rates. You want all the chunks cooked to the right doneness...nothing worse than an undercooked potato among the perfectly cooked ones.

I'm looking forward to sharing the recipes for Asian Slaw and Coconut Rice Salad but there are a couple of recipe improvements I want to test out before handing them over. I want to make sure they will be 100% worth your effort like these other two before sending anybody into the kitchen.

I'm always on the search for great new picnic addtions...What is your favourite picnic salad? Do share, won't you?


Eat well, Live well, Laugh often


Michelle

Thursday, July 21, 2011

3 Quick Food for Thoughts!

A quick 3 food for thoughts today...

1. Michael was out for dinner last night with some colleagues. When I asked him how the restaurant was, he said "It was good." (this equals a glowing-ish review from Mike) Then he made me smile ..."You know it's hard to appreciate dining out when you get the same thing at home."

I'm sure it's one of those lines that he uses to make me feel wonderful. Whether it's true or not - who cares - it worked. I feel wonderful.

2. The last measurable rainfall we had in out part of Ontario was on July 2 about 2 mm fell from the sky. Everything is suffering. Crops are stressed, animals are stressed, people are stressed. I actually told my kids not to play outside today as temperatures are expected into the 40's

Only a few things you can do. Keep hydrated - I love my water with ice and a wedge of lemon and or lime. Keep cool, find some a/c or a great shade tree and park yourself. Check in on others who may not be escaping the heat, elderly neighbours, children, pets. Be watchful of fires - there is a complete fire ban over much of Southern Ontario and Forest Fires are raging in North Western Ontario. PRAY FOR RAIN!

3rd and final food for thought today...

A look at my Tomatoes this morning. Tomatoes, which Michael very lovingly pointed out will be coming in to perfect harvest just around the time we are away on holiday. My neighbours are going to love me! Don't you think?

Plum Tomatoes.

Eat well, Live well, Laugh often


Michelle

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Easing the Dishwasher Blues

This is how my Saturday morning began...


Yes, that is my broken dishwasher, lying on it's face, partially dismantled. A wider shot would reveal me weeping on the phone with the guy from the appliance parts & repair depot and Mike, keys in hand, willing to bend a few driving laws to get what we need before the house implodes from domestic crisis.

"The part is available." Rob tells me.
"Thank goodness." I say, my excitement barely contained.
"I'll order it in, it should be here by Tuesday." Rob further explains.
"Tuesday? Do you know what kind of humour my teenagers will be in by then, after 4 days of hand washing?"
Nothing but laughter on the other end of the line from Rob, the friendly parts man.

I hung up the phone and decided that the best use of Mike's readiness to drive somewhere was a trip to the farmers market. The idea was capital, we missed last week due to social engagements. Today's visit was perfect save for those 4 minutes stopping on the way for coffee. Nothing horrid happened, unless you classify losing a little bit of sanity horrid (if you are curious, you can catch the story Michael, Nano Seconds and How Mickey Rourke Ended Up in Our Van.)

First of the season Niagara peaches!
Can you taste the plums, cherries, nectarines
and wine to follow?
At the market we were greeted by the intense heat of the beating sun and the absence of shade. I immediately felt the suffering of local farmers who have been praying for rain for days now. Despite the lack of rain the offerings are gorgeous! Today we picked up; beans, peaches, purple kohlrabi, peppers, mushrooms, field cucumbers, vegetable marrow and broccoli. On the way home we stopped at Herrle's Market for corn. There was plenty of local corn to choose from at the market but in my books the only place to get corn is Herrle's! This is the first offering of the season and I wasn't disappointed.

Bi-colour corn from Herrle's Market!
Pass the butter.

We postponed our plan to purchase a half bushel of beans for pickling. Another week and the selection will be more abundant and the price will be more reasonable. Pickling cucumbers too, will be easier to come by and the tiny ones I prefer will have also dropped a little in price. Not to mention that I dare not bring home a project like pickling without a dishwasher to back me up!

It is always the most difficult menu to plan, the one for dinner on market day. We begin with a table top piled with fresh food to put away and change the menu 100 times while we do so. Today we finally decided on slow grilled chicken, rubbed with olive oil and fresh herbs. For sides; sauteed new potatoes, grilled marrow and corn on the cob with a fresh pickle salad.

Here's how to....

Fresh Pickle Salad

This is the simplest and my favourite way to enjoy those old fashioned field cucumbers (apart from a cucumber sandwich that is.)
Old fashioned field cucumbers
complete with seeds!

  • I chopped 2 field cucumbers into bite sized chunks
  • dressed them with salt, pepper and a good splash of rice vinegar. (Gran would use regular white vinegar but I find the rice vinegar milder and less distracting of the fresh cucumber flavour.)
  • Now all that is needed is time, let the cucumbers rest for at least 30 minutes. The longer the better actually.
  • Stir them occasionally.
  • Add a little bit of sour cream if you prefer a creamy finish to the salad. I like mine, just as is. 
Finished fresh pickle salad.

The day turned lovely in spite of appliance troubles and we managed a dinner of fantastic enough to ease the pain of hand washing the dishes afterward!

Eat well, Live well, Laugh often


Michelle

Friday, July 15, 2011

Steckle Heritage Farm Kicks Off My Weekend!

Just look at what landed in my passenger seat today! Eggs, potatoes, zucchini, lettuce. I picked them up on my way past Steckle Heritage Farm.

If you are not familiar with Steckle Heritage Farm, it is well worth the effort to discover! A teaching farm within city limits, Steckle Heritage Farm offers school programs, camps and family programs. They also host special events, celebrations like birthdays and weddings and charity events like the Unicef haunted barn, a local legend of horror.

My favourite thing to discover about the farm is that it has a farm gate market open on Tuesday and Friday afternoons. The selection is dependant on seasonal availability. When I arrived today I picked up the last dozen eggs at a bargain price of $2/dozen - that's cheaper than the grocery store and definitely fresher, the eggs were laid less than 48 hours prior to landing in my passenger seat! The zucchini, destined for the grill, was $1 and plenty big enough for supper and leftovers for grilled veg sandwiches. I splurged a little on a basket of new potatoes but truly, I can't keep denying the craving. They were $3.50 but the price will drop at the season matures. Find #4 was a cram packed bag of tender green leaf lettuce; this became dinner...I could have eaten the entire bag, but I didn't.

I wonder how many people know that this treasure lays right in the heart of suburbia; just as close to thousands of homes as their neighbourhood grocery store!

If you get the opportunity to take in an event at the farm, I say don't pass it up. If you've been passing it for years, stop in one Tuesday or Friday afternoon and see what is to offer on the market stand, I promise the change from your ashtray will cover the cost and you be thrilled with what you bring home. Beyond great grown on the farm flavour, you can feel good knowing that the sales all support the programs at the farm.

For more information of Steckle Heritage Farm you can visit their website

Eat well, Live well, Laugh often

Michelle

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Hot Off the Grill

From April though November a great deal of fabulous food comes off the grill in our backyard. 98% of it cooked to perfection by Michael who seems to be rather a natural with the flame. He makes me look good everytime! So much so, that everything goes on our grill. Beyond the standard burgers, steaks and sausage are chicken, lamb, fish, kabobs, pizza, polenta fruits and vegetables.

There are 2 staple recipes that repeat all through the grilling months, probably because of how incredibly easy and quick they are.

Potato & Onion Parcels

Yukon gold potatoes
onion
salt
pepper
garlic

Scrub the potatoes clean and slice into 1/2" pieces
lay the fan sliced potato on to a square of aluminum foil (shiny side up)
slice onion thinly
alternate potato slices and onion slices
season with salt and pepper and minced garlic
wrap tightly in the foil




Place the potatoes on the warming grill on the BBQ and close the lid, keeping the temperature around 350. because the potato is separated with the onion slices they cook quickly; about 30 minutes is enough time depending on the size of the potatoes used.

Perfect finished on the plate with a dot of butter, a sprinkle of parmesean or a dollop of sour cream.

Grilled Vegetables

zucchini
eggplant
peppers
mushrooms

Wash zucchini and eggplant and slice on the diagonal into 1/2" thick pieces
wash and quarter peppers
clean and trim mushroom but leave them whole

Brush the prepared veggies lightly with olive oil and season with pepper. (I save the salt to season after so that the moisture isn't drawn out of the vegetable prior to grilling.

Place veggies on a hot open grill, turning frequently to avoid over charring. These cook really quickly and are great to do while your meat is resting. You will tell the veggies are ready when they give a little to gentle pressure. The eggplant will cook the quickest, peppers will take the longest. The vegetables continue to cook after being removed from the grill so remove them at the sightly under-cooked point.

After removing from the grill season with salt.



Eat well, Live well, Laugh often

Michelle

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Everything is Flourishing in the Garden...Well Almost Everything

Remember my excitement over planting my little patch of tomato & pepper heaven? (read Me vs. Market...Michael vs. Mud) After the initial planting we are eagerly anticipating the arrival of caprese salad, toasted sandwiches, stuffed peppers and rustic pasta sauce. I am quite impressed actually with how things are growing along. What I failed to convey in my previous post on the subject is that I can not keep things alive. I have killed every living plant that has entered our home, I have even buried a cactus. My outdoor garden survives because I don't touch it. My theory being, if it grows... leave it alone, if it dies... well, I wasn't that invested. My children should count their lucky stars that they don't have roots and leaves.

So this flourishing in my tiny veggie garden is a milestone! Everyday I look out my back window and think to myself..."well done, Grandpa would be proud." On alternate evenings I venture out with the hose to 'nurture.' You can imagine my absolute delight tonight when I approached the garden and found my plants FLOWERING! No one is more surprised than I am. I watered the tomatoes and peppers, I watered my flower baskets, ferns and herb baskets, all the while commenting on what I have accomplished. Me, the one with the black thumb, I have produced a (albeit smallish) farm and it is flourishing.

I packed away the hose and went for my camera, the moment requiring capture, both for proof and prosperity. I began snapping pictures....

Tomato plant WITH flowers!

Pepper plant WITH flowers!
Then I decided to lift the bird netting to get better shots of those beautiful places where food will grow. Instantly, just as quickly as it had inflated, my heart sank about as low at it could go. There, snarled in the bird netting was our Chippy. Chippy, who has run the peanut trail along our fence for 3 years. (I'm guessing it has been the same Chippy every year, truthfully, I don't know how long a chipmunk lives but I like to think he was not like the kindergarten hamster, perpetually replaced.) Clearly he had entered the garden through the fence side and was caught up trying to get though or out as the case might be.

I was frozen in place. Then Ethan joined me, I choked back a tear. All I wanted was a great tomato and to get it before the rabbit did. I didn't want to kill the creature my son had been feeding peanuts too. We stood frozen in place. Katelin joined us, then Rebecca and we stood frozen in place. When Michael arrived on the scene he freed the poor creature and dug him a shallow grave. The neighbourhood boy who was fascinated by the cycle of decomposition, said a few choice words and that was the service.

So tonight, while I am very impressed with my ability to grow plants, I am not so impressed that not everything is flourishing in my garden. 

RIP Chippy. (If a Chippy shows up next year I'll know the others were frauds.)

Eat well, Live well, Laugh often

Michelle

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Food, Fat and the Future!

I'm going to broach a delicate subject. Why it is considered delicate is rather beyond my comprehension, I think a little more open conversation could go a very long way in addressing the solution. There seems to be a public embarrassment however in dealing with the issue of weight or rather the issue of eating, not only how much we eat but what we eat.

We spent Friday as a family celebrating Canada Day at Riverside Park in Cambridge. It was a beautiful day and thousands of people were taking part in the festivities. Spending time in a crowd like that is a slap in the face that wakes you up to the reality of the obesity crisis. Even as an aware person, every once in a while I am completely taken aback. Friday was one of those times. I was stunned actually that in a sea of people, those who were at a healthy weight were far outnumbered by those who were not. I was shocked at the children; I was shocked at the food choices. I was shocked that it all seems so socially acceptable.

I was shocked and I was starring…and I not going to apologize for staring, I'm pretty sure I have the same lack of control over that reflex as so many people seem to have over their hand to mouth fixation.

I did stare....at toddlers barely with their land legs, teetering around with baby bottles filled with freshie, chocolate milk and pop. I starred at parents who washed cotton candy off their children so that they could eat their cheesies with clean hands. I stared at rides and wondered what the original manufactures "person capacity" was vs. how many of today's thrill seekers were permissible. I starred at people angry because they make porta potties too small and lawn chairs "so flipping cheap these days that they break the first time you sit in it!"  I stared at a guy ordering a whole pizza and immediately felt ashamed because my assumption was that it was a pizza for 1.

I starred at hundreds of ill-fated kids bouncing off everything in sight, ricocheting on a permanent sugar & food dye high. I stared at the parents and grandparents suffering to cope.

Yup, if you felt eyes burring on you, they were probably mine.

By the end of the evening I was close to tears. It is so overwhelmingly apparent that we have become a society consumed by quantity and oblivious to substance and quality.

I was beyond saddened, I was furious! I wanted to ask the event organizers where the healthy food choices were. The healthiest option I could locate was water; the only veggies I found were the diced tomatoes and onions on the hotdog condiment station. Truly a person could not have eaten healthy at the event if they in fact were struck by the notion to do so. I chastised myself for not wanting to tote the cooler around in the heat and leaving a picnic in my fridge. My kids were not happy about it either.

I wanted to ask people if they realized that for the first time in the history of mankind, our children have a LOWER life expediency than the generation before them. I wanted to ask people if they could estimate their calorie, sodium and sugar consumption for the day. I wondered if I handed people the equivalent amount of sugar, fat and salt straight up on teaspoons if they would be so quick to indulge. I wondered if it would shock them.

Two generations ago people ate real food. One generation ago, people ate real food with the occasional junk food indulgence. Much of my generation can identify what healthy eating looks like but succumbs to the fast pace convenience of today’s premade meals and fast food. The coming generation thinks that fruit gummies are actual fruit and believes potato chips count as a serving of vegetables. Imagine where we will be in another 2 generations if we don’t make some drastic changes today.

There are solutions though. People who know how to identify and cook real food need to talk about it. Take a cue from Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution; Talk about food, share great food, inspire others to cook and eat real food. That is one thing. Next we need to make real food accessible, along with the hotdog carts and the poutine trucks there should be salad wagons, produce carts and squeeze your own juice stations, we should make it affordable to eat great food and excite people about the choice.  Thirdly, what I really believe we need to do is educate people!  Remember when Home Economics was a class? Spending cuts have removed what could very well be the most important lessons for future generations from the classroom. We teach sex ed in school because as a society we agree that too few kids are getting adequate and accurate information at home to help them make healthy choices. The reality is that too few kids are receiving adequate and accurate information in the home about food as well.

We need to start making people uncomfortable, we need to broche the delicate subject, and we need to have a conversation.

My mind has been spinning on this topic for quite some time. It is partially the reason I have kids into my kitchen to cook and why I tote kids to the farms. It’s the much needed conversation on a very small scale.

Eat well, Live well, Laugh often

Michelle