Monday, March 8, 2010

February in Switzerland and France

What is it about Europe I love so much? Could it be the love affair I have with wonderful food or is it the fact that meal time in Europe is sacred? Meals mean family time, freind time and a long time to savour and enjoy the chef's creation that day. I have never been to a European home where meals are hurried and great conversation is not de rigeur.

What a pleasure for me, as I am possibly one of the slowest eaters in the world. I take pleasure in each bite of food I take, and do as I was taught by my mum - I actually put down my knife and fork often inbetween bites!

I am so proud of my two daughters, Brooke and Bree. They have hectic lives - Bree often has to travel around the world for her job and has a stressful career, albeit an exciting one! Brooke is 9 months pregnant and has 3-year old Sienna. Anais is Bree's creation and is 12-years old. However, they always sit down at meal time and eat healthy, home-made meals.

I just returned from a marvelous 2 week stay with my daughters in Geneva. And, much of our social time was spent at the dining room table, whether at Brooke or Bree's or invitations out. Our first invite was to Anais's grandparents who live in the Valais. Jacqueline is a great entertainer and her dishes ooze with flavour and creativity. Lunch time at their lovely home was a delightful 4 course meal. However, upon leaving, I did not feel overly full and uncomfortable. Proportions and food combining enable one to be sated but not "stuffed"!

Another evening was spent at my dear friends, the Burke's. Vegetarian fare was made exciting by including smoked salmon, baked salmon and a wide assortment of cheeses and salads. It is always fun to eat at their home and dine buffet style.

Nicole Porte, who is Luc's mum always entertains with such elegance. Her meals are scruptuous and made even more so by the fine Baccarat cyrstal glasses used to drink J.P.'s luscious wine choices and the exquisite silver to gather outstanding morsels of food. Parcels of swordfish topped with scallops and seasoned with fresh tarragon was undeniably delicious.

A drive to Annecy, France for the day was another highlight for moi. what made it even more special was that it was just we 5 girls - Brooke, Bree, Anais, Sienna and me. We walked the charming cobblestone streets of "the Venice of France" oohing and aahing tiny clothing and epicurian boutiques. After walking the old town for a half hour, we chose a local eating spot away from the river where tourists congregate.

Bree and I sipped a kir before lunch. I chose a typical Savoyarde dish "reblechonade" which is made with the cheese of the same name - reblechon. It is served melted atop gratin potatoes and is rather heavenly in one's mouth. It was served with a fresh salad and a delicious vinaigrette.

Once our leisurely lunch was finished, we walked to the more modern shopping district. As if on cue, all the stores open promptly after lunch and the streets fill with shoppers. We enjoyed window shopping and entering specialty shops to browse.

One night, we had my favourite moitie/moitie fondue made with Vacheron and Gruyere cheeses. I could drown in this typically Swiss dish. Brooke and Bree made two pots of fondue together and Luc and I stirred with our wooden spoons until melted enough to whisk them to the awaiting holders on the centre of the table. Sharing a fondue is such a great way to entertain. If a woman drops her bread in the fondue pot, she has to allow all the men at the table to kiss her. If a man drops his bread, he must buy the host a bottle of wine! Normally, white wine or hot tea is served with fondue and never water or cold beverages, for the cheese will turn into a knot in your stomach!

On my last night, Brooke served another of my favourite dishes -- raclette. This wonderful cheese is served melted, as well and is scraped over steamed potatoes and eaten with "cornichons" and pickled onions. One can add cayenne pepper, harissa (the best is made by my son-in-law, Yann), curry powder or whatever spice turns you on. I happen to be addicted to spicey foods, so add the harrissa or cayenne pepper. This is an other example of a Swiss meal served in restaurants and in many homes. It is another great way to socialise while eating. Swiss white wine is the perfect accompaniment to this dish.

Speaking of which, most people have not had the opportunity to savour Swiss wines. The reason? Swiss wines are largely unavailable outside of Switzerland. The 29 million gallons of wine produced each year are drunk by the inhabitants. Only 2 percent of Swiss wine is exported and mostly to surrounding European countries.

The best wines in my opinion are made in what is known as the Swiss Riviera in the Lavaux terraces on the northern shores of Lac Lemain or Lake Geneva. Vineyards grow on steep slopes that drop straight down to the lake. You have to see it to believe it!

Sunday brunch at Bree's was a delicious omlette made with organic eggs and whole wheat toast.

Returning to America is always difficult for me because I miss my kids so much, but also because people do not seem to take the time to savour their meals as much as they do there. I wish I could wave my magic wand and people here would suddenly realise how important it is to take the time to cook, sit down together and take the time to eat and converse.

Maybe one day..........

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Kevin's roadside farm stand, Maryland.

Farms Along The Connecticut!

On our drive up north over Thanksgiving, Jane and I stopped about 10 times on our little road trip! I am not kidding! First we bought incredible Eastern Shore oysters shucked and snug as a bug packed deep in jars. As I write this, I am craving those oysters like nothing else, so need to drive over there very soon to buy some more! If I get "unlazy", I will venture to my car to read the shop where we bought them. Tomorrow!

At another stop, we bought Virginia peanuts to share with my family, because we have the best peanuts in the world. Once you taste real nuts, you will not want to buy that famous name brand again. Ours are larger and so crunchy and filled with flavour!

Along the way, we stopped at numerous roadside farm stands to buy fresh crates of collard greens, kale, watercress, squash and Haymen (sp.)sweet potatoes. We left Norfolk with a relatively empty car and slowly but surely, we started looking like the Clampett's on their drive out west! One farm stand in Maryland that we particularly enjoyed was on the side of the road (photos attached) and owned by Kevin, the farmer. I have never seen watercress like we bought from him. It was larger and fresher than anything available anywhere! It had such a peppery bite to it and the aroma in the car made us want to stop to make a salad with shaved Parmessano cheese and drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice! Kevin was so proud of his stand and we could not get enough of his fresh veggies. We promised to return on our drive home and I was literally heartbroken when we got stuck on the NJ Turnpike for hours so could not reach him by sunset.

Our drive up was such an adventure and it was so much fun taking our good ole time to drive down country lanes and not really have a time line to arrive at my sister and brother-in-law's home. However, once we did arrive, they looked at our packed car and wondered whether we were planning a move to their beautiful home! That night, we had our first taste of Eastern Shore oysters with a yummy home made cocktail sauce.

Cocktail Sauce
3 tablespoons freshly grated horseradish
3 tablespoons organic tomato ketchup
juice of 1 lime
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Don't bother buying cocktail sauce - make your own! And, don't buy the horseradish cream, as it will not taste like the above. Making your own condiments and sauces is so easy to do and the taste will speak for itself! Don't waste your money on preservative-filled jars bought in the store. I was saying, the first night, we dug into the oysters. We ate them raw before dinner with cocktail sauce. Yum is not the word.

The next night, my other sister, Jennifer, and brother-in-law, Chas arrived from New Brunswick, Canada. They had stopped on the drive down to buy a new cider press. Chas has beautiful apple orchards and makes the best cider, bar none, I have ever tasted in my life. He is a purist! He and Jennifer allow hundreds of locals to drive onto their gorgeous farm in the fall to collect apples for free. His apples are crisp and great for apple sauce, apple crisp, apple butter and I could go on and on, but won't. I get side tracked. So, once they arrived, we decided to fry some of the oysters in Maris's baby fry master, or something like that.

I don't believe in fried foods, but this was a once-in-a-blue-moon treat for us all and I didn't fry the oysters into oblivion. We were 9 people at this point, including Carson, Laurel and Hayden and there were still enough oysters to go around. They pack those jars up like nobody's business!

I think I am fortunate to have a family of sisters who all cook magically, even if I do say so myself. We absolutely love good food and it is a delight to cook together and apart for all of us. My nieces and nephews also cook beautifully, as well as my two daughters, Brooke and Bree.

I get so sad when I see mums and dads in the grocery store filling their carts with solid junk! They shop on the inside aisles of the grocery store and think by feeding their kids "boxes", that they will thrive, grow and develop into wonderful adults. Instead, they develop behavioural problems and become obese. I know I repeat myself often on this subject, but it absolutely kills me. I just want adults to change their ways and dance around the outside aisles or all the way to the farms!

Well, the trip to Greenwich is always a blast and a wonderful gourmet feeding frenzy. On our way home this time, we stopped in Soho to have a wonderful brunch in Soho. The food was outstanding and I don't say that often. It was fresh, well-seasoned and they used organic produce and eggs. What a delight! The ambiance was equally as pleasing and it was a fun deter from living in Virginia. The place was packed with trendy Sunday eaters. Had we known that we would be stuck for 4 hours due to a double barrel garbage truck that caught on fire, I could have stayed there all day - eating and drinking! Luckily, we did buy bagels, which we ate along the way. Man! There is nothing quite like a N.Y. bagel! Now, I am craving one of those.

Family time is such a delight, and to share it in the kitchen and dining room is what makes it special. When we are together, we are constantly in the kitchen. Maris happens to have a beautiful one but gets fed up with us all not relaxing in other equally beautiful rooms with roaring fires and great views. People always gravitate to the room in the house where it should all happen, and I don't mean to microwave frozen or prepackaged foods, either.

There is no microwave in this house and never has been. I actually don't know how to use one and never wish to learn. Microwaving food changes the molecular structure of food and is dangerous. Keep away! Beware! What happened to double boilers????

Well, it is almost dinner time in this house and our little road trip was on my mind as it is that time of year when one eats lots of leafy greens, brussel sprouts, cabbage, squash of every variety and all of the exotic winter veggies! If you learn to eat in season, you actually look forward to each season so you can savour what it has to offer wherever you live. I went to the lovely Fresh Market last night to buy pancetta and other delights not available near me and was saddened to see all sorts of berries, that are totally out of season and probably taste awful - not to mention the carbon footprint used to get them here!

At this time of year, I happen to be addicted to butternut, spaghetti and every squash and have been since I was a kid. The way I love it is simple - steam the flesh and puree it with lots of organic unsalted butter, sea salt and black pepper. Or, cut the butternut squash in half and bake in the oven. Five minutes before cooked, drizzle pure maple syrup and butter in the shell and go ga-ga as the odour of caramalization hits your nose. Curried butternut squash or pumpkin soup is also a favourite in this family!

Tonight's dinner will be unusual for me as I rarely eat pasta. But, it is winter and why not splurge on calories? Crisply-cooked pancetta; toasted pine nuts and panko bread crumbs; steamed organic escarole and good-quality spaghetti; sauteed jalapeno pepper and organic heavy cream with lots of cracked black pepper. Mix all together and served with a green leafy salad with lemon vinaigrette. Okay, I have to go cook now.

As always, choose your food wisely. Cook with love for yourself and for your loved ones - your body is your temple.

Bon appetit!

Monday, January 11, 2010

My dog, Spirit, enjoying the beach....and an old time story of the way food was in my village.

First of all, a very Happy New Year to anyone reading this. I sincerely hope this new year brings abundance in every aspect of your life!

One of the highlights for me at the end of 2009 was a speaking engagement at the Edgar Cayce / A.R.E. in Virginia Beach for their New Year's Conference. I spoke about the importance of buying locally-grown, in-season and organic foods not only to support local farmers but also to enable your body to acclimate to its environment. There are so many logical reasons to buy locally but so many people have forgotten why it is important. This is the first time I have spoken publically and was actually paid for it. As well as speaking, I did a small cooking demo and showed bits of the film, "Fresh". There were approximately 50 people there, who were very sweet and very interested to learn about food in this modern era.

Growing up in the Maritime Provinces of Canada, we did not have the luxury of eating strawberries in February, or quite frankly, anything else out of season. When I was a young girl, we had a very small grocery store in our village named "Sobey's" plus an old-fashioned meat/cheese and penny candy store named "Diggles" which was run by a lovely old English man named Mr. Diggle and his sister. Mr. Diggle had a handlebar moustache and silvery white hair. He was tall with a rather portly tummy and always wore a perfeclty starched white apron. Diggle's was similar to an old store in a Hollywood movie. We loved going there to buy penny candies such as hard-to-find English sponge toffee or licorice. Mr. Diggle had the best aged cheddar around. Of course, these stores were within walking distance, so we did not drive unless it was for a large amount of food. Actually, as kids, we walked everywhere and people do to this day!

Fresh milk was delivered to our house from a local dairy farm and there were no antibiotics or hormones injected into the cows because they were free-range and not cramped together in "factory farms" as is the norm today. The reason cows and animals are so heavily injected with pharmaceuticals is that they would become ill as they are up to their knees in their own feces instead of being allowed to roam freely. My Uncle Joe Steele had a very large farm of 1,000 acres in Hammond River with 100 milking cows. I even learned how to milk a cow the old-fashioned way as a kid!

"Caldwell's" sold grass-fed, free-range hormone-free chicken, meats and eggs. The meat was cut in front of you by Mr. Caldwell or you could order a Sunday roast for pickup. There was a rapport between the grocer and the customers and the former knew your likes and would telephone your home if there was something he knew you loved.

Fish was from the Kennebecasis River or the nearby Bay of Fundy. In winter, many friends went smelt fishing on the frozen river and what a treat that was. Shadroe was common in our household for breakfast or dinner. I often crave both of these. Salmon is abundant in New Brunswick and the Miramichee River is famous for this. Many U.S. Presidents have made their way to the famous lodges on this river to hunt salmon. Wild game was another wonderful treat that was hunted seasonally. And of course, I canont forget the tons of fresh lobster, scallops, oysters, perriwinkles and mussels I consumed, which was all fished locally.

And, I was lucky to grow up near the city of Saint John where there is the S.J. City Market which is the oldest city market in North America! It is still operating out of the same building, built in 1876. It has a unique roof structure that resembles an inverted ship's keel. Made of wooden trusses, the structure was reportedly built by unemployed ship carpenters of the day. Also, the floor slopes with the natural grade of the land. The architecture is in the Second Empire style.

Some of the businesses in the market have been operating continuously there for more than 100 years. The market was designated a National Historic Site in 1986. I still love going there on visits home to buy my beloved "dulce", which is a local sea vegetable and actually wonderful for everyone, especially if you are low in iodine.

Growing up, we always had an abundance of fresh vegetables on our dinner plates. Squash, carrots, potatoes (one of New Brunswick's largest crops), asparagus, broccoli, May peas, green beans, artichoke, summer sweet corn, and my very favourite fiddleheads. For those of you who do not know this wonderful vegetable, they are harvested in spring and are from the fern family. They are ferns before they open and are great steamed with freshly-squeezed lemon juice, sea salt and black pepper! Yummy! My nanny always had a small vegetable garden, as did most people I grew up with. Fresh berries were a must-have item in gardens.

Living in Europe for most of my adult life afforded me the same luxury as growing up in rural Canada - i.e. fresh food eaten in season and bought at wonderful farm stands and markets! Ditto for my 4 years in Saudi Arabia where people put great emphasis on the food they eat.

Returning to America has been a "trip" so to speak in terms of finding fresh fruits and vegetables. Alas, there is a huge trend to return to the old way of buying food from local farmers and farm markets. Basically, that is all we eat in this household. We travel to a wonderful local farm in Suffolk called "Full Quiver" where we buy grass-fed, hormone-free, free-range chickens, eggs that have orange yolks and meat that does not even ressemble that sold in grocery stores. The colour is beet red while those from factory farms does not even resemble real meat in the slightest.

We eat lots of local collard greens, watercress, kale and leafy greens at this time of year and cook them every which way but loose. They can even be made into pies for a special occasion, like the ones made in Italy for Easter. We buy our milk from a fairly local dairy where the cows are treated humanely and the milk tastes like milk should. Next year, we hope to own a share in a local cow and receive unpasturized milk from Full Quiver Farms.

It is not difficult to eat how our grandparents did - which means nothing out of a package and seasonal foods. It just takes a bit of training and readjusting. But, I guarantee you that wherever you live, there are wonderful farmers just waiting for you to show up at their stands to buy the bounties of food they have toiled so diligently for you. Once you actually adapt to eating "real" food, you will never return to microwaved packaged food. Why would you?

If I have said it once, I have said it a million times -- support your local farmers and eat in-season food! If you don't support them, then they will disappear and you might go hungry one day. Or, rip up the grass in your lawn and plant a sustainable organic garden for your family (a "victory garden"). Teach your children where food comes from. Make a weekly drive to your local farms and markets to buy your produce. Get the whole family involved with cooking/baking and make this a true familly experience. Turn off the TV and return to the warmth of the most wonderful room in the whole house -- the kitchen! Have fun laughing, talking and dancing in the kitchen and be joyous when you eat your home cooked meal!

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Middle Eastern Red Lentil Soup

Okay, the key to making great soups is not to throw everything in the pot, but rather to saute garlic, onions, leeks, celery, Savoy cabbage and carrots in olive oil until translucent. Allow the flavours to come out! Once you have done this, you can add purified water and voila you have a great vegan stock.

Middle Eastern Red Lentil Soup
Serves: 8 - 10

3 onions, roughly chopped
2 shallots, roughly chopped
5 cloves garlic, peeled
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 leeks, whites only roughly chopped
2 cups chopped Savoy cabbage
2 carrots, roughly chopped
8 cups water
5 cups red lentils
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground corriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
Sea salt
Cracked black pepper

In a large enamel or stainless steel pot, pour olive oil and turn heat to medium. Add onions, shallots, garlic, celery, leeks and cabbage. Stir and allow to cook over medium heat for approximately 10 - 15 minutes or until translucent. Add water and lentils. Stir. Cover the pot and cook over medium heat until it comes to a boil. Remove lid. Stir and cook for a further 15 minutes. Season with cumin, corriander, turmeric, sea salt and pepper. At this point, you can use a hand-held mixer to puree a portion of the soup. Adjust seasoning before serving and remember, there is enough salt in vegetables without having to add too much.

Healthy tip: Lentils are a good source of minerals for nearly every organ in the body. Neutralize aicds produced in muscles.

Even if you are not a vegan or vegetarian, the richness of this soup easily replaces meat. A hearty rustic whole wheat bread would be a wonderful accompaniment to this outstanding soup, just to sop up any left in your bowl. Sprinking some great sprouts on top is another suggestion to give added crunch!

I made this soup today to eat for dinner and must say, it is outstanding in flavour.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Blue Hubbard Squash Soup

Squash is in season in southern Virginia and absolutely one of my favourite vegetables in the whole world. Like Bubba in "Forest Gump", this is one of those veggies, I could eat any way and be happy. Yesterday, wanting to make delicious soup using veggies I had at home, this is what I made. Some people may balk at the idea of peeling/cutting a whole squash, but it is rather relaxing and makes one focus while doing so. Blue hubbard squash is an heirloom variety and rather odd looking. It has a bluish tint, bumpy exterior and brilliant orange flesh, which is superb for making soups, bread, pies or mashed with dabs of butter, sea salt and pepper!

Blue Hubbard Squash Soup

1/8 cup unsalted organinc butter or 4 tablespoons olive oil
4 medium white onions, roughly diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 cups blue hubbard squash flesh cut into large chunks
2 medium sweet potatoes cut into large chunks
1 litre organic chicken stock or vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup heavy cream (optional)

First, peel or remove skin from squash. Cut into large squares, removing seeds (but do keep the seeds to bake in the oven!). Wash and cut sweet potato into large chunks (skin on).

Wash and dry squash seeds. Place on baking sheet and cook at 300F/150C heat for appoximately 20-25 minutes until crunchy. Remove from oven and add sea salt, if desired. Cool and reserve for soup.

In the meantime, melt butter over medium high heat in large enamel or stainless steel pot. Add onions and garlic and sweat for 3 minutes. Add squash, sweet potato, stock, cinnamon and ginger. Stir. Place lid on pot and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low and cook until squash is tender (about 25 minutes). Adjust seasoning to taste with sea salt and cracked black pepper.

Puree soup with hand-held mixer. Add cream and mix well.

Serve with roasted squash seeds for added benefits.

This soup is great served as lunch or dinner, accompanied with a completely raw salad of greens and assorted seasonal vegetables with a house dressing of your choice.

Healthy Tips:

Squash is highly alkaline and contains calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, beta carotene and vitamin C. Squash seeds expels roundworms and tapeworms.
Sweet potatoes contain the same minerals and vitamins as squash and help dissolve excess mucus; clear sinuses and sore throats.
Garlic is antibacterial and helps lower cholesterol.

It is noon time and I am going to eat the Cayce way and have a completely raw salad of mixed greens, grated cabbage and carrots, diced tomato and chopped celery accompanied by a cup of my blue hubbard squash soup!

One thing about making a large batch of soup that is wonderful - you can freeze leftovers to pull out of the freezer for days you are too busy to cook! That is what I will do today.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

My first radio interview on CBS Psychiconair