Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ikebana 2011 - Ignite!

An exquisite dinner party is not just defined by its culinary highlights. The details for setting the scene can be very elaborate. Much thought goes into choosing the tablecloth, the dishes, cutlery and glassware. And often the table is decorated with a centrepiece.

The art of Japanese floral design, called Ikebana, would perhaps be your most intricate choice for creating a statement on your dining table.

You can find your inspiration this weekend here in Ottawa. The Ottawa Centennial Chapter No. 120 Ikebana International has partnered again with the Canadian Museum of Nature to showcase their annual spectacle of flowers. The theme this year - "ignite!"

The exhibition started Thursday. It continues through to Sunday and is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. Entry is free with your regular museum admission.

There are also bilingual workshops running from 10:30 to 1:30 on both Saturday and Sunday. More information can be found on the Chapter's website.

Much of what you will see at the exhibit would be a bit grand for most dining room tables, but "may an ancient art combined with the love of nature ignite a new passion in you!"

Work by Helen Westington (Ohara School)
Sponsored by Tivoli Flowers
[Heliconia, Forsythia, Hawthorn, Cast-iron Plant, Calla]

Work by Wendy Baston (Ohara School)
Sponsored by Green Papaya Classic Thai Cuisine

[Amaryllis, Baby's Breath, Banana, Oncidium, Wild Grape]

Work by Terrence Hodgins (Ohara School)
Sponsored by Mill Street Florist
[Cymbidium, Jack Pine, Bamboo, Dracaena, Dianthus, Snake Plant]

Work by Shinran Mitsugi Kikuchi (Ohara School)
Sponsored by Embassy of Japan

[Heliconia, Bird of Paradise, Honeysuckle, Jack Pine, Wild Grape, Chrysanthemum, Cast-iron Plant]

Work by Mieko Watanabe (Honorary Advisor), Anne Breau, Leonora Duffield, Miki Mitchell, Naoko Yoshida-Moenck (Sogetsu School)
Sponsored by Canadian Museum of Nature

[Corkscrew Willow, Heliconia, Red Ginger, Alstroemeria, Ceriman]

Work by Marie-Eve Coupal (Ohara School)
Sponsored by East Wind (Glebe/Westboro)
[Red Ginger, Anthurium, Pleomele, White Pine, Hemlock]

* Introductory Photo: Work by Françoise Bussière (Sogetsu School)
[Rose, Climbing Bittersweet]

Monday, February 21, 2011

Are They Huevos Rancheros?

This morning once everyone in the house had their hands on a steaming strong flat white coffee, the suggestions for breakfast came out.
  • Leftover homemade chili
  • Crêpes of some sort
  • Bacon and eggs. Poached eggs to be more specific. Hollandaise sauce wouldn't be turned down.
When you have house guests, it is a rule of good hosting, that everyone gets what they order. But to make it more convenient on the kitchen staff, we teamed up to make everyone's wish come true with one dish.

The crêpes were filled with re-heated chili, topped with a soft poached egg drenched in Hollandaise sauce. The concoction was accompanied with a spoonful of homemade guacamole and a dollop of sour cream. Then a good sprinkle of bacon and chopped fresh cilantro.

Maybe it was not a truly authentic huevos rancheros, but we liked our 'teamy' version!

Have you ever had kitchen 'play' turn into a truly fun dish?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Yellow Pea Soup - The Secret is Savory

Yellow pea soup casts me back to childhood every time I make it. In a family of five children, with a budget consciousness on food, I often wondered why we never seemed to be eating what everyone else was eating. If we were having a broth soup made with old bones, 'they' were having something creamed. If we were eating homemade bread, 'they' were eating Wonder white. This preoccupation of 'not so fancy' meant that I would sometimes miss out on the fact that what I was eating was actually really good!

It seemed to me that this particular soup cost next to nothing to make. I was there when the bag of dry peas was pulled from the grocery store shelf and I saw that the price was a give away compared to everything else. The ham hocks were from our own pig and the carrots from our garden. I do not recall if there were any herbs added to the pot. And for some reason, it felt like making it took all day.

The family pea soup recipe may have been one dish that was full of flavour, but I was fixated on thinking of it as peasant food. Despite its lack of glamour though, it now remains one of my favourite dishes from our time together on the farm.

A recent purchase of 'Bacon Ends' from Lavergne's Western Beef Inc. out on Navan Road was the inspiration I needed to rekindle the past. I wondered if it could serve well as the salty pork portion in a hearty batch of yellow pea soup.

I started early this morning to get the pot going. The recipe I follow now is an elaboration of one I found in Gourmet magazine October 2001.

A very slow simmer brought tenderness to the pork without drying it out. The peas heated gently, softened and thankfully didn't turn to glue. The wafting aromas were rich in the savory.

As the smells permeated through the house, I contemplated if this would be the Friday night dinner or perhaps an impromptu lunch. I have my list of regulars that don't mind the 'emergency' calls to rescue me from bounty.

As lunch time approached, what happened next was just pure serendipity. I had spent the morning cooking but with my head waltzing down memory lane. Out of the blue two of my brothers and an old high school friend stopped in on their way back to Toronto from a mini ski vacation at Mont Tremblant. Like props for my story, they sat at the kitchen bar, soaking up the hearty goodness and reminiscing about food from the 'good old days'. (I didn't realize that my brothers doctored up the legendary 'water' soup with mustard to give it extra zip.)

When I heard the story of Tremblant's $7 soups and $18 sandwiches, it left me wondering about their timing to my kitchen so close to Noon. They feasted on their yellow split pea but I also rustled up frikadellers, open face sandwiches and a panini, doing whatever food artistry the ingredients on hand would allow. Bridgehead's Mayan Fusion was noted as being strong. I was pleased. That's how they like it. The last stash of the almond sweet Zangebak's were moved from the freezer. Another creation at risk of being fossilized in the past. My brothers barely remember them.

And as quickly as they came, they were gone again. Full, fueled and homeward bound.

The cost of the ingredients for a bowl of soup was about 50 cents. The value of the surprise visit? Priceless.

Yellow Split Pea Soup
Inspired by recipe in Gourmet October 2001

1 pound split yellow peas, picked over and thoroughly rinsed
8 cups water
1/2 pound 'Bacon Ends' from Lavergne's
1/4 pound ham ('Cold Cut Ends' from Lavergne's)
3 cooking onions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium leek (white and pale green parts only), rinsed thoroughly and chopped finely
2 cooking onions, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely diced
1/2 celery stalk, finely diced
3/4 teaspoon dried savory
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Chopped fresh chives

Pick through peas. Rinse thoroughly.

In a dutch oven combine peas, water, bacon ends and 3 of the onions, finely chopped. Bring to a boil. Then skim off the froth. Reduce the heat and simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. The peas should then be tender. Remove the 'Bacon Ends'. Remove the meat for the fat. Shred the meat and chop larger pieces. Return to the pot. Add ham chunks.

Melt butter in a large skillet or saucepan. Cook leek and remaining 2 onions over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add leek/onion mixture to soup. Add carrots and celery. Add savory, thyme, salt, and pepper. Simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Part of the time have the pot partially covered to thicken the soup. Remove the chunks of ham. Dice and return to pot.

Garnish with chives.

Serves 8

Friday, February 11, 2011

Feeding Flowers To My Heart

I think today is my day. All day.

Darling brother and family sent flowers. Nice starter meal! So filling.

My walking buddy, the 'Sinful Sister', put lots of calories in the entrée.

University girlfriend also surprised! Delicious dessert!

Then the wonderful book club gals, with springtime in hand, made sure that the non-stop party really did have food!

I going to burst. My heart is full. So full!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Mrs. Schwartz's Peanut Butter Cookies

I met Mrs. Schwartz when I was 4 years old. She lived across the road and would be our neighbour for 5 years. She was a widow and had three children if I could remember correctly. They were in high school and beyond. Although she had great skin, Mrs. Schwartz had gray hair so I was pretty sure she must be really old. Like a good neighbour, she shared with us her peanut butter cookie recipe. This was something we had never had before. Very North American. It was adopted quickly into our recipe collection. This is the only peanut butter cookie recipe I have ever made. I think that is partly because I don't want to ever forget her.

Now that our teenager has moved on from high school and I am getting a few 'light coloured' strands of hair on my temples, I am beginning to think that Mrs. Schwartz wasn't as old as I first thought she was.

Mrs. Schwartz's Peanut Butter Cookies

1 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/3 cup peanut butter, crunchy preferred
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/8 tsp salt

Cream together margarine, peanut butter, brown and white sugar.

Add the eggs one at a time and beat. Add the vanilla.

Sift the dry ingredients together. Fold into the cream batter.

Using a scoop, place the balls of dough onto a cookie sheet covered in parchment paper. Bake at 350ºF for 10 - 11 minutes.

Let cool on cookie sheet for a minute and then move to cooling rack.

Makes approximately 48 to 60 cookies.

Comedian Steve Martin Brings Levity to Canadian Celebrity Chefs Event with Grandmother's Song

The critiques of the first annual Canadian Celebrity Chefs event held last Monday, January 31st at the NAC in Ottawa continue to come out in news outlets and through food blogs this week. The feedback of the event has evoked strong passions as to whether the event was a success or not so much. As well, emotions have run high on who has the clearer vision of that truth.

Some of these volleys reminded me of a shtick done by well-known comedian Steve Martin, in 1977 on his 'Let's Get Small' album. His very sentimental 'Grandmother's Song' is speckled with the kind of loving, good advice that grandmothers like to impart on their descendants as they attempt to shape their malleable characters. All this in hopes that the young ones learn to make good decisions and live to a higher standard.

Although I couldn't find footage of the reverend Steve performing his act, I did find a YouTube clip of a red-headed 'wannabe' doing a pretty good rendition of this piece. A piece I had listened to often in my youth and have pretty much committed to memory. (For what useful, future use, I really don't know.)

I have included the words below so you can sing along with RED. It may be a bit cathartic and I bet you will find that there is a little bit of sage for just about anyone listening!

Although I like to think that Steve Martin is timeless, I know I run a huge risk trying to teleport 33-year-old humour into the present. But a risk I take in the spirit of lightheartedness and levity. Your response might be 'well I guess you had to be there". I say "thank-you Steve".

Before the song, his spoken intro went like this....

"Thank you. You know folks, when I was a kid, I was pretty close to my grandmother and she used to sing a song to me when I was about this high. It always meant something to me and I'd like to do it for you right now because it does have meaning in today's world even . . . all these years, you know those, even during the "hip drug days" you know when everybody was supposed to be so cool and everything had double meanings and this little simple tune would keep coming back to me and I think it kinda guided me through those years and I'd like to do this song for you right now, I think it might have a little meaning for you, so here it goes."

Song Lyrics:

Be courteous, kind and forgiving,
Be gentle and peaceful each day,
Be warm and human and grateful,
And have a good thing to say.

Be thoughtful and trustful and childlike,
Be witty and happy and wise,
Be honest and love all your neighbors,
Be obsequious, purple, and clairvoyant.

Be pompous, obese, and eat cactus,
Be dull, and boring, and omnipresent,
Criticize things you don't know about,
Be oblong and have your knees removed.

Be tasteless, rude, and offensive,
Live in a swamp and be three dimensional,
Put a live chicken in your underwear,
Get all excited and go to a yawning festival.

O.K. everybody!

Be courteous, kind and forgiving,
Be gentle and peaceful each day,
Be warm and human and grateful,
And have a good thing to say.

Be thoughtful and trustful and childlike,
(O.K. everybody on this!)
Be witty and happy and wise,
Be honest and love all your neighbors,
Be obsequious, purple, and clairvoyant.
(Let 'em hear you outside!)

Be pompous, obese, and eat cactus,
(Everybody sing!)
Be dull, and boring, and omnipresent,
Criticize things you don't know about,
Be oblong and have your knees removed.

(Ladies only)
Be tasteless, rude, and offensive,
(Now the men)
Live in a swamp and be three dimensional,
Put a live chicken in your underwear,
Go into a closet and suck eggs.

Lyrics By: Steve Martin
Music By: Steve Martin
Produced By: William E. McCuen
Released By: Warner Brothers Records
Published By: L A Films Music
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