Tag Archives: slowing down

Fridays are for foodies (chez moi)

18 Jul

Tofu with spinach and red pepper, in home-made peanut sauce

I work alternate Saturdays, which means I have the Fridays prior to those days off work. This makes for a strange schedule that often confounds attempts to plan weekend getaways, and will likely prove to be even more irritating when more humans are added into the family mix one day. In the meantime, I secretly quite love my Fridays off. They are all mine, to do with as I please, and the most recent one was an example of a more or less perfect day (well, a massage and a butler would have made it utterly perfect, but, well, let’s be realistic).

One of my favourite things to do on a Friday off is cook something elaborate or try a new recipe. I often find myself thinking how sad it is that our frantically busy world more or less prevents anyone from eating properly, or slowly, or truly enjoying the act of cooking a meal on a regular basis. [In the interests of full disclosure, I also work two evenings a week, which really messes with dinner hour]. Fridays off are my chance to push the pause button for a measly 24 hours and re-capture the fun of cooking.

I wasn’t raised in an family of elaborate home cookers. My mother has some fabulous family recipes that she has shared with me, and some of my earliest memories are of helping her bake. During my school years, however, both my parents worked: I remember my father as the more improvisational, “forget measuring” kind of cook. He seemed to relish the chance to play in the kitchen, although he rarely had the time for it. Perhaps I got my love of food from him, since he loved many foods passionately even though his diet was restricted by medication and illness. Despite being under strict orders to avoid salt, I remember him spiriting me away for a plate of fries at a diner once on vacation, with strict orders “not to tell your mother;” I often wonder if this salty taboo explains my tendencies towards savoury over sweet. My mother says I certainly got the habit of drinking a glass of something (in my case, wine; in my father’s case, sherry) while watching over a pot on the stove from him. After his death, the rest of my childhood and youth is a blur of school lunches, harried dinners before my mom’s meetings, interspersed with mother-daughter pizza nights I treasured and the occasional delicious home-made chocolate chip square.

I only came to truly love cooking, however, and to be comfortable enough to experiment with it, in university, via a friend who first introduced me to brie, coffee made in a French press, and sun-dried tomatoes.

In many ways, I still live the life my mother lived (as sure a sign as any that I truly admire her passion and love of her chosen vocation): harried dinners before or after meetings and packed lunches to work (high school tuna salad sandwiches replaced with salad and fruit). Food doesn’t always come first, and it’s sort of tragic, I think, that with the way our weekday world structures itself, there is little room for devotion to a particular meal.

Potato salad

On alternate Fridays, however, food does come first in our house. This past Friday, after a leisurely breakfast and coffee over a novel, I planned my dinner (a mix of tried-and-true potato salad my mother used to make for me, and a new Asian-inspired tofu and veggie stir-fry, since the husband was pining for Asian food). I combined a long jog with a trip to the grocery store, spent the afternoon relaxing and cooking, to have dinner on the table when my tired husband came home.

I would probably get bored with a stay-at-home life on a regular basis, and I am admittedly a workaholic who is devoted to her professional life. Alternate Fridays, however, to be a lady of leisure who shops for the evening’s dinner and meets her husband at the door, are a gift, an homage to an earlier, less busy time, when dinner hour was sacred and meals were prepared with care.

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Crêpes that conjure

17 Jul

It may come as no surprise to you, given the focus of this blog, that my favourite scene during the entire first season of True Blood revolves around food.

When leading lady Sookie loses her grandmother to the show’s mystery predator, she has no time to grieve in the chaos that ensues. Early in the episode, a particularly pushy visitor mistakes her grandmother’s last piece of pecan pie for just another post-funeral snack. Sookie rushes over, snatches the pie, and clutches it to her chest with a vehement “that’s gran’s pie” as an empathic friend shoos the imposing neighbours away. Much later, in the episode’s final scene, Sookie sits quietly at the kitchen table, alone for the first time since her beloved gran’s death. As an instrumental version of the funeral song swells in the background, she slowly devours the very last slice of the very last pie her grandmother made, and finally weeps.

I thought of the power food has to evoke not just memories of a person but the whole sensory experience of that person. I thought of my own grand-maman and wondered which, of all the foods she has nourished me with, would most evoke her. It was a tough call, but in the end, her crêpes won out.

Crepes de grand-maman

The thing about these crêpes is that they aren’t crêpes in the strictest sense of the word; you don’t spread the batter to distribute it evenly, resulting in a paper-thin crêpe that you can then roll and stuff with fillings sweet or savoury. They aren’t pancakes, either; not nearly as thick and floury as your average flapjack. No, they fall somewhere, deliciously, in between. Their spongey goodness gives you something substantial to chew on while proving light enough to heap with toppings if you choose. Enjoyed the way she serves them, with real butter and maple syrup, they are pure perfection. I’ve never found anything like them outside of my grand-maman’s kitchen.

Never, that is, until I saw this episode of True Blood and missed her so much that I called her up and had her recite the recipe to me over the phone. I proceeded to replicate the steps I’d watched her perform on countless occasions over the years and brought her to me in the best way I could. Interestingly, it isn’t just the finished product, it’s the whole ritual of preparation that conjures up the presence of people who’ve taken us into their hearts and homes and cooked special foods just for us. The emptied yoghurt container filled with freshly made batter awaiting preparation is almost as satisfying to me as the crêpes themselves.

Beyond the fact that I’ve hoarded these thoughts since the first season of a show that’s now well into its third, I share this to illustrate one of the reasons I most love cooking and baking. When we take the time to prepare food for each other, especially recipes that we’ve honed according to our own tastes and those of the ones we love most, we give each other something to hold on to in a world of things that come and go.

Bon appétit!

Crêpes de grand-maman

Ingredients:

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

3 tsp sugar

4 eggs

3 tbsp butter

¾ cup milk

¾ cold water

Method:

1.     Melt butter on low.

2.     Combine dry ingredients and sift into a medium-sized bowl.

3.     In a large bowl, beat the eggs then add the rest of the wet ingredients and whisk together.

4.     Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and beat until smooth (3 minutes with hand blender or cake mixer).

5.     Let batter sit, refrigerated in a covered container, for at least 1 hour.

6.     Cook in a non-stick or buttered pan on medium high until bubbles appear across surface of crêpe. Flip and cook until underside is golden brown.

7.     Keep cooked pancakes in a covered casserole in the oven at 200 F to keep moist and warm while preparing the rest of the batter.

8.     Serve with butter, maple syrup, fruit, etc.