Sugar is a weakness of mine. While to you that might be a rather obvious statement, what with me being the creator of Sugar High Fridays, I don’t think I fully realized the whole truth until recently. You see, it was a closeted fetish all these years. One I harbored yet denied frequently, guiltily, shamefacedly…but vehemently. Continue reading “The Desire for Sweetness”
Everyone keeps their own guilty pleasure comfort food in their kitchen for times of need. My mom keeps licorice, just in reach, just in case. One friend never leaves the grocery without restocking her supply of roasted nuts. Another always has at least five kinds of cookies in her cupboard for emergency situations. A guy I knew in University had two packages of processed cheese in the fridge and white bread in the cupboard for grilled cheese, day or night. Everyone has needs.
Once upon a time, seemingly in a completely different life, I was an early riser. I was one of those much dreaded “morning people” actually. I would be up before the alarm had a chance to wake me, out of the house at some strange, ungodly hour and rather enjoyed being the first to arrive at work. Weekend mornings I never slept in or (God forbid!) took naps in the afternoon. I can remember myself on Sunday mornings long-ago, up drinking coffee at around 6am, planning the comings and goings of the day that lay ahead. Continue reading “Catnaps and Coffees”
I doubt that there is anyone out there who hasn’t heard about my over-active olfactory sense. Smells are such strong representatives of my most powerful memories that sometimes I find myself weeping over a whiff of a chilly autumn breeze or smiling maniacally after smelling my son’s sleep-warmed hair.
In fact, I just packed away a bunch of his way-too-small-for-him clothes and smelled each and every piece before folding it and packing it away in a box in his closet. I found myself in a puddle on the floor of his room with a yellow onesie pressed to my face, wishing he was still little enough to fit into it. Whoever said “they grow up so fast” was absolutely right, and I hate them for it.
Every summer, for about as long as I can remember, my parents have planted tomato plants in their backyard garden. That’s what Victoria Day is for — as long as it’s not pouring rain or freezing cold (both good possibilities up here in the great white north) — planting the vegetable and herb gardens.
On the south side of the yard, where the sun shines the strongest and where the soil has grown vegetables and herbs for more than forty years…that’s where they go. I would make the trip to the nursery and pick out each plant as though it might be a piece of beautiful jewelry, carrying them home in the plastic trays, watching them bounce up and down on the seat next to me. The smell was always what I loved most in the beginning — the smell of freshly growing tomato plants is something beautiful and simple…it’s the smell of sweet and savory combined in one.
Inspiration strikes in mysterious ways – many things wouldn’t exist without it. For me, when it comes to cooking, inspiration is doubly important because sometimes, frankly, I have no idea what to do. Many nights, inspiration is non-existent at 5pm when I get home from work and I’m tired and hungry. Picking Leith up at school, getting hats and mittens and boots on and getting him home is a trial in itself. At these times that bag of digestive cookies really looks quite a lot like dinner…maybe with an orange juice chaser for a vegetable/fruit course.
Oftentimes even the simplest of fares can convey a sense of comfort, a feeling of joy and add a certain amount of contentment to your day. Merely the smell of something baking in the oven, a hint of nutmeg or the tang of ginger is all you need to make you feel warm and placated after a long day of rain and chilly wind beating against the windows of your home. In fact, the scent of baking is supposed to enhance the beauty of your surroundings to such a degree that most realtors insist that you perfume your home surreptitiously with cinnamon, orange, vanilla or apple when you are showcasing it to perspective buyers.
These smells are, to some people, aphrodisiacal. The aromas of vanilla and cinnamon, as perfumes, have proven themselves over and over again in so many contexts over the years. Women, men and children stop me in the halls at work and insist that I must have cookies in my pockets (and every so often I do). I got into a car with a friend recently and she told me I smelled like Cocoa-Puffs (personally I think she might have been a bit "koo-koo for cocoa puffs"). My old boss used to search my desk drawers when I was at work, assured that there had to be piles of Rice Krispie Squares hidden in there somewhere.
These sweet, slightly musky scents have never had an adverse effect on anyone I’ve met and I don’t even really notice them anymore until someone else points them out to me. I also don’t wear vanilla or cinnamon perfumes, but rather oils, which have no alcohol base to it; making it much more subtle and less annoying than regular perfume (I am actually allergic to regular perfume).
Blending cinnamon and vanilla in proper quantities in desserts is something I love to do. You get the bite of the cinnamon and then the long, smooth slow sweetness of the vanilla. It’s like the perfect kiss.
Growing up I was terminally shy. I hid in my mother’s or father’s arms, even around family and close family friends. I stammered and stuttered and tried over and over to edge myself into society. It never took and I spent most of my younger years simply not talking.
Once I started cooking and eating the way that I do, somehow I became much more of a social person. Years ago you would have been hard-pressed to drag me out for a glass of wine, a bite to eat or a cup of coffee, unless you were the closest of friends or family. Even then it took a great deal of negotiations, imploring, insisting, pleading and whining on your part…if you were indeed up to it, and considered me worth it.
I’m not sure why that was, or why I’m so different now. My personality hasn’t changed drastically since then and I don’t think I’m much more interesting or approachable now than I was then. In fact there are aspects of my personality that are more closed off and difficult than before and my schedule is more compressed with a job, a small child, an away-all-the-time husband.
All that aside I am a huge fan of "going for coffee". I like to drink coffee as much as anyone, but I like to go for coffee even more. And if the chosen coffee spot happens to have good sweet side dishes then all the better. A very good friend of mine introduced me to this coffee and gelato cafe near where I work a few summers ago, and we went there often. The first time I went I had their caramel apple coffee cake and fell madly in love with it. I found myself craving it more and more until one day, without warning, the shop closed. No "moved" sign, no chance of reopening. It was gone. Since that day I have been searching for a recipe that would attempt to compare. Finally when I couldn’t find one that quite worked, I came up with one myself that is amazing.
AND…mine is actually better than theirs. This leads me to think, who needs friends when they can bake like this?
I love muffins. Breakfast, lunch or dinner I could eat one and be full and content. They come in all different flavours too: chocolate chip, raisin bran, lemon-cranberry, banana-nut, blueberry-buttermilk or apple-oatmeal or just about any combination of all of the above. When I’m grabbing my coffee in the late-morning after a super busy meeting or mid-afternoon after an intense morning I am often swayed in the direction of a muffin to go along with that coffee. After eating one though, I often tend to regret the rash decision…
It is really quite difficult to find a good muffin out there. You can, quite easily, procure great coffee, the perfect loaf of bread, amazing pastries and delicious cakes. Marvelous muffins however seem to be, for reasons unknown, a lot more difficult. Mainly because muffins have gone from being relatively healthy, light-ish breakfast fare to being heavy, super-sweet, full-of-sugar, cake-like delicacies. They are no longer the stuff of quick snacks, rather they are desserts…and quite filling ones at that.
While it’s not difficult to dutifully google "low fat muffin recipes" and be rewarded with page upon page of choices, not one recipe I found was actually appealing to me. I could easily have made any one of them, but knew I wouldn’t really want to eat the muffins after baking them. Most of the recipes unfortunately thought that "low-fat" should be synonymous with "low-taste" and in my books that does not a good muffin make. I mean, who wants to eat something that tastes like cardboard, and sometimes not even that good…?
After a few trials and errors, a few mishaps in my kitchen and a few curses at my own in disability as a muffin chef I almost gave up. Then last week I came across a fairly yummy-sounding recipe that I thought I could switch around just a bit and make it into some really worth-while, healthy — but still tasty and filling — muffins.
I do believe I succeeded in this endeavor this time with these meal replacement kitchen sink muffins. In fact, I took one to a co-worker and after scarfing the whole thing down quite quickly she turned to me and said "Well, Jennifer, that was probably the best muffin I have ever had".
Fall is such a peculiar season. One day it is sun-dappled and picturesque; you prance around, feeling as though it might be summer returned. The next it’s chilly and damp – verging on dismal. Unlike in the spring, when a string of rainy days can be balmy and bright, a welcome relief from snow and sleet; a wet autumn day can leach into your bones and chill you from the inside.
Unfortunately every one of my aches and pains come shining through on bitter fall days. My knees ache, my elbows hurt and my spine sends a migraine running up my neck to my head that just won’t go away. It’s days like this that I am in desperate need of warmth and coziness – and food has always been the most readily available source of comfort for me (let’s not get started on what that might possibly mean).
I love creating meals that make me smile when I eat them. Foods that remind me of my childhood are the usual fare that will cheer me up on a gloomy day. Cuisine that is rich and flavourful, slow-cooked and filled with love will do the same. Dishes that are colourful in presentation and robust in taste brighten up my evening, just when I need it most – and these last ones, I find, are the simplest dishes to prepare.
First, choose a vegetable that is cheerful in disposition, something with a nice sunny colour. Peppers, tomatoes, asparagus, squash…you get the general idea. Take your veggie of choice and roast it or quickly pan fry it with the tiniest bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. Select another vegetable that you can�t live without (my own personal choice would be onion) and roast it as well. Add your two vegetables to something supple and scrumptious and hot, such as risotto, soup or pasta and voil�: the perfect meal to warm you on a cold, dark and stormy day.