What I learned in Grade 8 home economics

Omigod, I found my Grade 8 Home Ec notebook this week!

home ec notebook *Looking through it, I realized that I’ve been saving recipes for longer than I remember. Maybe it didn’t “count” when I cut them out of magazines in junior high because it was for school, not for me, but I know it had an long-term influence.

From a cooking standpoint, what fascinated me most was the section on “Creative Meal Planning.”

In handwriting that was much rounder and fancier than it is now, I listed the “important elements of meal planning,” including “pleasing colours and attractive & varied combinations, wise use of food, and variety in flavour, colour, shape, texture, temperature.”

I used the term “kitchen artist” in one section. I doubt I came up with that one on  my own. There were references to eye appeal, taste appeal, and colour combinations. No wonder I see cooking as creative and satisfying.

It’s funny, Home Ec wasn’t my favourite subject, even though we got to eat everything we made. There were a lot of rules and expectations, so it wasn’t strictly a “fun” class.

But I remember some interesting dishes, one of which inspired a recipe for sautéed red cabbage, apples and sesame seeds on this blog a couple of months ago. The original recipe calls for white vinegar instead of apple cider or umeboshi, only one apple, and brown sugar instead of (preferably dark) maple syrup. I prefer the updated version.

I have red cabbage in the fridge. Now I know what I’m going to do with it.

Accents, and listening

Last night, a friend of mine posted a BBC Radio link on Facebook, called “A Tour of the British Isles in Accents.” We both found it interesting because of our  background as language students – plus, it’s less than a minute and a half, an added incentive for me to check it out.

I think I learned to listen – really listen – to the way people talk, when I was studying French as an undergraduate. Part of our “ear” training involved transcribing tapes of diverse speakers. Brigitte Bardot was one, and I believe there was also an elderly, toothless man from the south of France, as well as a hippodrome announcer.

The focus I honed in that classroom helped me years later as a reporter, when I interviewed people and covered events.

In the last couple of years, I’ve become a fan of Downton Abbey, and part of the appeal is just listening to the English accents. This morning, I found an interesting blog post about the accents in the show.

The BBC Radio link also brought to mind a scene from “Lucy Meets the Queen” – an episode of I Love Lucy – when Ethel explains to a British character that she and Lucy don’t understand English, because they’re American. I looked for the episode online, but couldn’t find one that would play in Canada. Sigh.



My home office, and the “black hole”

Yesterday, I spent the whole day working on my home office (an extra bedroom), as well as the room I refer to as the “black hole.” I unpacked boxes, hung pictures, shredded, organized, and made a lot of decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of.

I moved all of my “offfice stuff” out of the dining room in early December, but didn’t really have full use of my new space, because my daughter hadn’t completely moved out of it. Sigh.

Although I like to break daunting tasks into manageable chunks, I felt I needed a running start for this next stage of getting-my-house-organized.

One thing that motivated me was helping a friend move earlier this month. Moving forces you to get organized and go through your stuff. I wanted to do that too, even if I wasn’t moving.

I also came across a TV show called Hoarding: Buried Alive, and watched the end of an episode as well as the beginning of the next one. Yikes! The show served as a cautionary tale. It also provided motivation to tackle my “black hole,”  the result of two post-university moves back home, and some of my own things that hadn’t yet made it to my home office.

There’s still a lot to do, but I’m ready to go back to the manageable-chunks stage. Lucky for me, because I have other things to do too.




Chocolate Sunday – Reintroducing Chocolate Just in Time!

Now that I’m past the three-week mark of my elimination diet, I’ve reintroduced chocolate, and I seem to be fine having a bit of caffeine and sugar, as long as it’s not too late in the day. Lucky me!

The funny thing is that I wasn’t in as big a rush to reintroduce it as I expected.  A smaller piece is more satisfying than it used to be, and I’ve decided that my new go-to chocolate is Lindt’s 85% cacao bar, rather than the 70%, which has twice the amount of sugar.

chocolate:trivia nightThat said, last night I bid on a very attractive tin of chocolate crunch at a silent auction which was part of a trivia night held to raise funds for Canadian Hadassah-WIZO.

The tin, along with some treats for participants to enjoy during the event, was donated by Ma’s Kitchen – a local small business whose products are available in select Canadian stores.

I had breakfast with friends this morning, and brought the tin along to sample. The crunch is tasty and very sweet! It was hard to choose between the milk chocolate, dark chocolate and white chocolate versions, each drizzled with contrasting chocolate(s) and topped with pecans, cashews, or a pecan-almond combination.

There were only three of us, so the tin is still pretty full. I’m going to save it for the next time I have company!

Happy Cherimoya!

I was excited to see this article about soursop in yesterday’s Toronto Star. Reading about the exotic fruit brought back memories of eating its “cousin,” cherimoya, for the first time in 2006.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were in Chile, and suddenly cherimoya – which I’d never heard of – was ubiquitous. We enjoyed cherimoya yogourt at breakfast and cherimoya ice-cream in the afternoon, but my favourite was a simple dessert: fresh cherimoya mixed with orange juice and sugar. In Chile, they call it “Chirimoya Alegre” – Spanish for “Happy Cherimoya!” I love the name. It sounds like a holiday greeting!

The Star article says that cherimoyas, better known in English as custard apples, have flat petals, but the ones we tasted in Chile were bumpy-skinned with no petals at all. Cherimoya isn’t a pretty fruit, but its creamy texture and flavour – with hints of banana, pineapple and coconut – more than compensate.

I’ve only seen it in mainstream Toronto grocery stores a couple of times – once a few years ago at Loblaws, and more recently at Metro. I ate it plain – no sugar, no orange juice – but it was still a “happy” cherimoya for me.

What I read on my vacation

I’ve always been interested in what makes people tick, and – by extension – what makes relationships tick. So I was intrigued by the title of Ann Patchett’s new book, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.

I knew it was a collection of personal essays, but didn’t realize how much of the subject matter had to do with writing. Wow! Now that I’m working on my own book after spending twenty-plus years writing articles, I found the best-selling novelist’s latest offering to be an especially great read.

Before tackling book-length fiction (and non-fiction), Patchett got her start writing short stories and freelance articles. Her best-known novel is Bel Canto, a story about a group taken hostage in South America, and the dynamics between them and their captors over time.

It’s heartening to me that Patchett made the leap to full-length books, that it wasn’t easy, that at times she lacked confidence in her ability, and that she succeeded so spectacularly, winning some half-dozen writing awards along the way.

In her new book, she shares not just her story, but a generous amount of practical advice and lessons-by-example for writers.

She is equally forthcoming on the subject of love – of family, friends and pets, as well as the subject in the title.

I didn’t work on my book when I was away, but I returned home with new enthusiasm for the project, some new ideas about writing, and validation of thoughts I already had.


Pre-writing blog posts – good idea, or not?

I was on vacation last week, and thought seriously about posting when I was away, but my internet connection was slow and I decided to give myself a vacation from blogging too.

A friend suggested to me not long ago that it’s a good idea to have three blog posts in the can. I often make note of ideas as they occur to me, but somehow I feel it would be “cheating” to pre-write too far in advance.

Looking back on recent posts, I see that most of them tie into whatever has been going on in my life (or my head) at around the same time I wrote them. For me, that’s part of the appeal of blogging, and a better measure of progress in my post-downsizing journey.

Wondering what other bloggers do…


Chocolate Sunday – A couple of links

It’s been a busy week – just posting a couple of links with chocolate news from Israel, where Chocolate Week begins today!




Kale chips

This week, by coincidence, my friend Brenda and I both made kale chips for the first time. She blogged about them here on Tuesday.

kaleWe even used the same recipe, although I added crushed fresh garlic à la this Whole Foods Market recipe.

Usually, I sauté kale with garlic, olive oil, and sea salt. It was a nice change to have the popular superfood as a crunchy snack instead of a side dish.

Judging from the variety of kale chip recipes I found online, there’s a lot of flexibility when baking the chips. The recipes call for different oven temperatures, ranging from 275 to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Whatever you do, keep an eye on the chips. You want them to be crispy, not burnt.

And make sure the kale pieces are thoroughly dry before you bake them. I used (a lot of) paper towel; Brenda opted for a salad spinner. I think her way is probably better.


It’s starting to feel like a book

Yesterday and the day before, I worked on my book, writing twice as much as I do most weeks.

For the first time since I joined a writing group on LinkedIn, for which I have to post a weekly word count, I felt like I was ahead of the game. So I started to edit, which I haven’t done for a while, and got a look at what I have.

Most of the editing I’m doing consists of fine-tuning – adding, deleting or changing words and phrases. I’ve also had to cut or move some larger chunks. Aside from that, I’m pleased with the way it’s turning out.

But it still feels pretentious to say I’m writing a book, even now that I’ve written a substantial part of it (maybe a third?), and even though I’ve announced it to the world on my blog.

The book started writing itself in my head in 2009. That’s how I’ve thought of it ever since, and it feels like a more accurate description than “I’m writing a book.” Before I was downsized last June, I’d only written the first couple of pages, and it didn’t feel like a book.

Recently, I’ve had encouragement about writing the book from more people who… aren’t my mother! I do think the subject – a memoir about losing my father – will resonate with a lot of people. There’s much that’s universal about mourning a parent, even though there are aspects that are unique to me as an individual, and as a Jewish mourner who said Kaddish for eleven months.

I’ve also given much thought to what makes a synagogue (or any institution) a welcoming or comfortable place, how good things can come out of bad, what I value in people, and the changes in women’s ritual participation at synagogue. I think these themes are implicit in my story. I hope they will prove as compelling in book form as they’ve been in my head.