Try breakfast on a bed of greens

April 21, 2018

Lately I have been experimenting with cutting bread and dairy out of my diet.  Well that is not entirely true.  What I mean to say is that my girlfriend has decided to exile bread and dairy from her diet. Sooo…OK I can live with black coffee for a while I guess in support of her dietary exclusivity.  But poached eggs on toast has been a staple in our relationship since day one.  My egg poaching prowess was, I would like to think, the key that changed my status from ‘visitor’ to ‘partner’ in our household.  No small feat.  I can sense a few of you nodding in agreement.

The challenge of course is what does one put the poached eggs on?  There has to be something.  Perfectly cooked eggs sliding around on a plate is almost revolting.  There are too many nasty analogies to describe this option so I’ll pass.  The most obvious choice was some sort of greens.  I tried putting them on a bed of steamed spinach but they just slid off to the side and there is no mechanism to tidy up the yoke.  I found un-cooked spinach a much better option.

Then I tried kale.  Sure it was a bit of work prepping it-kitchen scissors work best to get the nice green bits away from the ribs. Put the bite-sized chunks in a bowl and massage some olive oil and Italian spices into them.  Dump them in a medium hot large skillet until crispy and nutty and presto-the perfect mattress for those lonely eggs.  I usually cook a mushroom and onion side with sliced avocado and tomatoes to give it some colour.  I could get used to this…and I seem to be getting into my jeans much easier these days…

Chiles en nogada in Paco & Azucena’s cooking classes

We were wandering the streets, picking up fruits and vegetables, buying homemade ice cream, and soaking up the hot sunny rays of the late afternoon sun. A gentleman, walking with a cane, came up to us with a scrap of paper and proceeded to tell us about the cooking classes that he and his wife hosts every Friday at a local hotel in in San Patricio-Melaque, Mexico.

San Patricio Melaque Mexico Nov 2017-342

I am a sucker for cooking classes and was keen to learn a Mexican dish or two. The cost was right, the class was a few days off, and I thought I would take the chance. I procrastinated for several days and finally, Friday morning (my bad) I send a quick email off asking if I could join the 1 o’clock class. There was still room! I was welcomed to attend and I was told not to be late (how did he know?) It was the first class of the season and on the menu was a very special dish, Chiles en nogada.  The classes are running from November until April 2018. To book a class just email pacobarriente@hotmail.com or find him on Facebook or maybe he’ll approach you on the street.

Friday morning began like most other mornings in November on the Costalegre as I enjoyed the surf. A comfortable 26 degrees at sunrise but hot, humid and sticky by 10:00 a.m.  I strolled past small shops, smiling children and heat drugged dogs on the short walk to a hotel on the opposite side of town. I entered the Hacienda de Melaque Hotel and was warmly greeted, in excellent English, by a young lady at the front desk who escorted me through the palm trees and gardens, past the pool to the outdoor class. Tables and chairs had been set up under the palapa, an open-sided dwelling with a thatched roof made of dried palm leaves, which are very common in this area.

Norma Azuicena Hernandez Guerrero, wow, that is a mouth full, was busy doing final touches while her husband Paco greeted arriving students. He would handle the questions and any translations that Azu might need.

The poblano peppers, a mild large green chili pepper, originating in the state of Puebla, Mexico were already sweating in a bag waiting to be scraped and peeled; a range of ingredients from onions to apricots to nuts were chopped and ready to get used. Prior to class starting Paco advised us that he would be emailing everyone the recipe after the class. He was true to his words as I had my handouts within 24 hours. Chiles en nogada, the original dish, is very complicated but Azu did a terrific job adapting the recipe so that it could easily be made in any kitchen.

The cooking class was part demonstration and part hands. Azu and Paco gave the history of the dish and talked about the key ingredients.

Chiles en nogada, is a classic dish with the tri colours representing the Mexican flag – green, white and red. The dish originated Puebla which has a rich history in food, dress and culture. Chiles en nogada was created by the nuns to honour a visit from General Augustin de Iturbide. Rumour has it that the nuns used up to 52 different ingredients in the original dish. Iturbide not only inspired this dish but he is credited with naming Mexico, creating the first flag and decisively gaining independence for Mexico on September 27, 1821. . The horrific part: He was executed by a firing squad on July 19, 1824 at the age of 40 leaving behind his family. Iturbide is acknowledged in the national anthem and his remains are in the Mexico City Cathedral. What a legacy!

The flag colours are represented by the peppers, the walnut crème sauce, and pomegranate arils. On a side note-pomegranates were introduced to Mexico by the Spanish Padres.  It was cultivated in regions with arid climates in the old country and adapted beautifully in Mexico. September, October and November are normally when this dish is readily available.

We were all given a chance to scrape away the skins of the peppers, slice them open, add in the filling and then seal with toothpicks.

Azu made the batter – a light, airy meringue- got the flour ready for dredging, heated the oil and then carefully pan-fried the peppers. What I love about this dish is that you can do a lot of prep beforehand AND you can serve it at room temperature.

The whitish nut sauce was prepared using a stick of cinnamon, pecans, a thick sour cream, goat cheese, some sugar, and was quickly blended up.

Now one fluffy oil-roasted pepper was placed on a plate. Drizzling a thick sauce over the whole pepper and then garnishing with parsley and pomegranate arils were the final touches. My first bite was a surprise – the light crust was airy and not greasy or oily. The filling was a sweet-savoury delight. It wasn’t nearly as fattening as I thought it would be! It was enjoyed by all in the class and the majority of the students signed up for the next session.

San Patricio Melaque Mexico Nov 2017-377

Now that I’m back in Canada,  I’ve had a bit of time to dig into the history of the dish, and have discovered deep historic roots steeped in a very important period of Mexico’s development.  Be prepared to spend the time if you decide to follow some of the links below as you will be opening many doors into Mexican culture. For more photos visit this link.

It was my first time in San Patricio-Melaque, a very laid-back beach town. I love that they only took Mexican pesos (No US or Canadian dollars accepted) and that credit cards were not usually accepted. A very stress-free holiday where my main concern was not getting too much sun, wondering what was I going to eat and drink! Lots of Mexican families came down on the weekends. I loved watching the families of all ages, shapes and sizes. Plenty of body surfing. And the most amazing sunsets and sunrises.

For a piece on how pomegranates ended up in Mexico in the 17th century check out this piece by Karen Hursh Graber, Senior Food Editor for Mexconnect.

For another recipe check out this informative blog by Leslie Tellez  and her most current site at http://www.lesleytellez.com/writing/  Oh too fun, I just read that she’s also a member of the IACP. I’ve been a member on and off since the mid 90s.

If you happen to be in San Patricio-Melaque, Mexico please email pacobarriente@hotmail.com or check him out on Facebook – he’s very quick to respond. Plus he also offers up Spanish classes if you want to improve your language skills.

 

 

Typical Breakfast at my Auntie’s

So often breakfast includes a collection of cold cuts (including cow's tongue and reindeer), perhaps a soft boiled egg, plenty of cheese and bread, a bit of tomato and of course, coffee. The cheese is almost always sliced and there is this bread cheese that is pan fried but can be consumed warm or cool. It reminds me a bit of flat curds. When heated it becomes quite stretchy. And the bread isn't your typical load of white bread. It has much more character.

 

Foodie Mo: Food is Fuel June 22 2016

Every day I consume food. And yet how much do I think about it? I am conscious that it is feeding the millions of cells that I have in my bode. And I know it is my fuel. It has an impact on me both inside and outside. And yet I don't always pay attention. Perhaps by attempting to write about it, I'll understand my relationship with food better.

Foodie mos:

– tequila as a fat burner

– eating unwashed fruit build immunity

– there are incredible twenty year olds who care about their produce (helps that they grew up in a farming environment).

– people will buy 8 month apples over fresh harvest (I wonder if they eat expired items from their fridge)

HOTEL: Right now, I'm at Moxies in Calgary – it is attached to the Sandman where I am staying for two nights. They were nice enough to upgrade me to a suite. That is always nice and I'm thrilled I didn't get the upgrade with the staircase after my accident last year. But I digress. My other choice, within the hotel, was Denny's. I'm not a fan of Moxies but this one seems to have better food, nicer staff and enough value items to make it worth considering. And I really don't' want to venture out at 10 PM. And well Denny's? I can only imagine that the eggs they are serving aren't going to meet my standards.

The food truck movement was featured on their late night menu – so I ordered a couple of chicken tacos ($4.00 each) and they came up quickly – lots of crunchy cabbages and lettuces with some decent tasting chicken in a soft shell taco, along with foil wrap and a recyclable tray and a plastic squeeze bottle of hot sauce (hot sauce just makes everything damn better). Not truck food really unless they happened to have their own truck out there. But it paints an image in my mind. The dish was pretty healthy as along as you aren't a vegan.

There was a Kale Quinoa salad that sounded decent but then my memory flashed back to the Maple Leaf lounge in Vancouver were I was earlier in the day. A kale three bean salad – one of their standards (and after a while when you've stopped in four or five different lounges, you get visual fatigue) – so I just couldn't stomach more kale.

The dude down the bar from me (can I call some 50 year old guy a dude) is eating his fuel – deep fried calamari and chicken wings. He's got the broiler to prove it. Oh, bad me, I am judging. After all I'm sipping a glass of NZ Kim Crawford that is just on the edge of being mineral rich but just. And gjven that it is 1/2 price Wednesday and I'm here for two nights, the best value was ordering the bottle. So who am I to judge. But judge I will. Oh dear now he's got his main??? Those were his appetizers.

My waitress described the Kim Crawford as the bomb. She did add that a lot of people do order the Okanagan wines. 11 screens. Ugh. I really do dislike all the screens that are just so common in restaurants now – distracting, a waste of energy and right now five of those screens are the same What is the purpose? I do know that my waitress is so busy cleaning and had not noticed that my glass is empty. So I guess I will put my second glass on my own.

My waitress also tells me that she just came back from Mexico and that she used to drink tequila and water and she believed that was it was a fat burner. Right now she prefers beer, and rum – white rum and sometimes red wine. OMG I can remember serving in the Durham Arms in Oshawa, Ontario and I knew so little about wines. Ideally the staff here is better trained and it is a different world now. Mexico was the waitress' first trip outside of Canada. Los Cabos. it's a start.

GROCERY STORE VISIT: I had a great conversation with Shannon at the RCSS in the NW of Calgary today. She is studying communications, 2nd year, at the University of Calgary. She approached me after watching me chat about apples to another young woman. The first shopper has selected several apples off the end cap after holding each one, twirling it and dropping it into her plastic bag. Then she proceeded to take them out and replace them with Red Delicous.

I just couldn't take it. I had to ask. And I tried to do it gently and with curious its but anytime you ask why, you are sure to raise eyebrows. And so I asked her.

“Do you mind if I ask you a question? Why did you switch out to Red Delicious?”

“I guess I just saw them there and I really like Red Delicious and so I thought I would do that.”

“And did you consider that they are, like, 8 months old?”

I could see her thinking about it and then dismissing it. She laughed in a questioning way and then I moved on on let her finish her purchase of 8 month old apples. And it was shortly after that, that Shannon, came up to me and asked if I was also wondering why there weren't any BC apples available to purchase.

Shanon had a friendly warm face with flawless skin and long blonde hair, very fresh looking (yes I am envious of skin as I don't think I appreciated what I had when I was her age), living on a student budget, yet her cart had a lot of produce in in. And that is when I discovered that her parents were apple growers in Oyama, BC. At least I think she said Oyama – I need to look that up.

Our conversation as all over the map – organics, GMOs, apple growers, peppers, Safeway versus RCSS, parents, farming, corporations versus small time farmers, distance food travels – the list was long. But I loved being engaged with someone who seemed to care and was willing to learn and explore.

APPLE SELLER: Today I had a kiwi with me whose been working in the fresh industry for a decade. 25 times around the world. Loves Vancouver. I learned about smartfresh, sunburn on apples, puncture wounds and recent damage.

Food is our fuel.

 

 

Tackling Food Prep

I'm sitting on my folding ladder and wondering where to start when I remember that I pulled out the ladder to grab my penguin 1960s ice bucket. I need to empty my measly existing ice-cubes into that bucket, refill the cube trays and get them into the deep freeze if I want any cubes for tomorrow night. I know, I know, I can simply go out and pick up a bag of ice but right now that smacks of effort. And really it should just take 10 minutes max. Timer on! Okay that took 12 minutes and now I'm out of filtered water.

Next tasks: washing and rinsing the bounty, peel potatoes to get ready for boil, put milk into stainless steel pot and bring to an almost boil, and get the next list of times started. Timer is on for 30 minutes. Let's see what I can get done. And remember to turn on the dishwasher before 9:30 PM.

First off, grabbed an apron, NYC NYC one, pulled out the vases for the herbs,scrubbed down the stainless steel sink (oh how I would love to have two sinks) and refreshed by beer.

Timer just went off and I am satisfied with my washing – all the herbs rinsed, cabbages cut in half and rinsed, green onions, celery, zuks, potatoes, English and Persian cukes, eggplants, grass, peppers, mangos, citrus, Royal gala apples, anise, small and medium tomato are all dripping now. 2% milk is at 181 degrees F so I just turned it off (to allow it to cool to 110 degrees). Oh but the sour grapes are in the fridge. Those will have to wait.

Abundance of fresh produce

Oh dear, I'm at it again. I invited a few people over to celebrate the man's birthday tomorrow on Sunday. And it now looks like we will be eating the Mediterranean diet all week. This time I actually pulled out recipes ahead of time, printed them off and made a shopping list. And I still over-shopped.

Perhaps next time I'll stick to those items instead of re-creating new dishes in each shop that I stopped in. And that is part of the problem – I'm always looking at fruits and veggies. Since I work in the trade I must feel it is market research as I wander through so many stores, picking and choosing, smelling, pricing and judging. Have you ever noticed that the longer you are in a store, the more likely you are to buy.

But right now I have got work to do. It is getting on, 10 minutes past 8 pm on a Saturday night in Kits. I've washed up, pulled the hair back (no one wants any of my blonde turing grey hairs in their dishes), poured a Marten's Pilsener (in honour of when I used to work in Anterwerpen) – over ice I might add as it wasn't cold and I need to dilute it a touch anyway as I need to keep my wits about me.

 

Be More With Less

It is Jan 1 or maybe 2, 2015. Saturday night and I'm on my own as GB is off to play hockey with the guys. Crazy frosty outside (for Vancouver, BC) and I'm still keeping off my ankle (injured while surfing in San Del Sur, Nicaragua, in mid-November). So hanging around the house a lot.

Drinking water (versus wine) which I seem to be lacking these days. I like to leave my water sit out to room temperature to release the chlorine. Now I'm not sure if that actually helps but I've been doing it more and more. But why? So after a bit of research, I've discovered that I need to do a lot more but here's the simple stuff.

Chlorine is a disinfectant added to drinking water to reduce or eliminate microorganisms, such as bacteria and viruses, which can be present in water supplies. Health Canada, on it website, claims that it has greatly reduced the risk of waterborne diseases. Now what I didn't know was that one of the by products are trihalomethanes Tri(T)Halo(H)M(M)Methans or THMs, which include chloroform.

Health Canada's site goes on to state that a “recent study (no idea of what or how recent this study might be as it is not noted or footnoted) showed an increased risk of bladder and possibly colon cancer in people who drank chlorinated water for 35 year or more”. Hmm, I live in Canada, am older than 35 years and thus I would qualify is what I'm thinking right now.

And I guess this is why the tap water my niece used recently in the fish tank caused the fish to tank (i.e die). I do believe they used Sodium thiosulfate which is used to neutralize the water but perhaps the chlorine levels had been increased due to the season.

How to minimize the risk? The site suggests using activated carbon filters. But are there other alternatives?

Reverse Osmosis might be one thing to explore – and this is something that appeals to me as I would like to get rid of fluoride in my water. And there is UV light. But this wasn't what I was going to write up right now. I'm off track. But let me get a glass of water.

Back to BeMoreWithLess.com – a site I was browsing that has listed 25 ways to simplify my life in 10 minutes or less. #2 Write three thank you notes. So I'm going to do just that. I have many people to give thanks to so let's see how many I can get done in 10 minutes.

Okay I did it but it took 15 minutes by the time I found the cards, wrote the cards and I still haven't addressed and stamped them yet. I did have many things to give thanks for – handmade baked goodies, dinner invites, Christmas gifts, generous gestures of graciousness and so much more. I still have several to write but at least I'm better prepared. I could send email thanks but when I think of that time and effort that people put into doing something special I realize that I should not be so lazy. Take the 5 to 10 minutes to be grateful.

And I've decided to open a bottle of Gerolsteiner Carbonated Naturel Mineral Water. Nice glass bottle. It has some bubbles and makes me feel like I'm treating my body to something good (the label does state it has calcium and magnesium).