I have always been fascinated by food.
Peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwiches, lime jello, and Cheez-Whiz melts on Wonder Bread were the staples of my childhood. Now those were fascinating icons of 1960’s cuisine!!!
But once I was old enough to reach the countertops in the family kitchen, I started experimenting and creating beyond the processed food aisles and deep freezers of my formative years.
Perhaps it was youthful rebellion. Most definitely, it was freedom!
Early in my teenage apprenticeship, I ordered herbs in the mail from Murchies. This famous Vancouver tea merchant also stocked a large variety of dried herbs in bulk. This notion of abundance and of herbs that still had fragrance struck me as a rare commodity, sharply contrasted with the neat jars of very dry, very boring “spices” on the supermarket shelves, each a replica of the other. Thinking that herbs could now be my culinary salvation, I began to augment my cooking. Questing more ooomph than found in the humdrum dishes I had been raised on, I branched out into happy hours of experimentation.
My patient brothers and sisters took bay leaves out of their teeth for hours after sampling the hearty beef stew I concocted one winter day. Under the mistaken impression that more was clearly better, I added a half cup or so of bay leaves to the dish! One or two just didn’t seem enough to make the dish flavourful… Oh, the lessons learned by doing! Thankfully, my seven brothers and sisters still ate and continue to eat my cooking!
That said, there are differing ways in the kitchen. To each, her own. My mother insists that stripping fresh thyme leaves from their stalks and harvesting and chopping fresh sage is an inferior practice to those tidy, uniform little supermarket spice bottles. In the spirit of family harmony, we have agreed to disagree – at least for family dinners. If I want fresh herbs in the Thanksgiving turkey dressing, I take on the hunting and gathering. If she is making the stuffing, she gathers the bottles of poultry seasoning herself.
Cooking is like that I think. We try something out and if it doesn’t work to our taste, we revise, fine tune, or we try anew. And our loving family and friends will come to the table or arrive at the picnic with an appetite and laughter. The bay leaf story has been family fodder for decades!
I hope this growing collection of recipes with its revision history tried on family and friends over the years strikes a chord with your taste buds and that you find occasion to try a recipe or two on your crowd of enthusiastic supporters.
My Gramma Ellis was a great cook! This poem is about her. And butter tarts. And love.
You made me butter tarts
were soft and squishy
with double “m’s”
like your yielding breasts when you hugged me
warm and soft against your apron
the blue rickrack
on the shoulders
flour dust on one eyebrow
unaware of your dishevelment.
You made me
Pastry escaped in flakes
on my lips and chin.
You let me squish the margarine till the red dot disappeared
Standing on a big kitchen chair,
I was tall,
put little hands around the plastic of the margarine package
You made it a game
That anyone could play
We passed round the hard margarine from uncle to aunt to cousin to me till the colour yellowed and the whiteness softened
Like your hair
Wavy and curly and laughing
around your face
You had canaries
For no reason
In the kitchen
And through the windows
You whistled their songs
And talked to them
In bird language
and I played on the moist grass
You taught me
That love was big
And there was always lots more of it
— Like butter tarts