Category Archives: food

Waiting for the Noodles

After nearly four decades of cooking for myself, I can’t say that there is much that scares me in the kitchen. I have no problem following a recipe, word for word, in the hope of achieving the expected results.

I will even go so far as to say that I am pretty confident when keeping my eye on two dishes at once.

But it’s when a meal has three separate components (or more) than my anxiety can potentially boil over. In those moments, I start wondering how the talented jugglers I have seen on TV could spin multiple plates on the end of tall sticks, and keep them spinning beautifully.

To me, cooking is very much the same thing. It is the variability of variables that can potentially spoil a meal that keeps me on edge.

Let’s start with the essential work tools, the stove and oven:

I’ll never forget the stove that came with the house in my last place. At 15 years old, it wasn’t an antiquity, but by today’s standards for appliances, it was getting old… and increasingly unreliable.

It didn’t take many under-baked goodies for me to figure out that there was a problem with the oven. After a while, I bought an oven thermometer to get a second opinion on the temperature. Sure enough, the oven was almost always 25 degrees under the temperature I requested. Continue reading

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When Food is Flying

Back in my working days, I used to think of myself as the king of batch cooking. On any given weekend, I would roll up my sleeves and slice, dice, chop, fry, bake, roast or braise any number of food items in preparation for the work week ahead.

I would place the completed meals into small microwave-safe containers, label them and then freeze them. It often felt like cooking for a platoon, preparing two or three recipes at the same time and ending up with 12 to 15 prepared meals, but it worked for me. As a result, during the work week, I barely had to think about lunches and dinners. To me, it was a pretty efficient system for cooking for one.

During those marathon sessions of cooking, I picked up the habit of cleaning the kitchen as I went along to avoid a mountain of dishes and a bad case of “kitchen claustrophobia”. Just the same, when food prep day was done, I could do one final kitchen clean up and then toss whatever I was wearing into the laundry hamper.

The reality is that despite my meticulousness when cooking and cleaning up, I often ended up wearing some of my ingredients. Call me an enthusiastic chef!

After moving to the country with my partner, I quickly adapted to cooking for two, as we took turns in meal preparation. Continue reading

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Kitchen Claustrophobia

a spread of party food sitting on a turquoise blue stovetopAm I the only one who suffers from kitchen claustrophobia… or is it acrophobia? Whatever the clinical term might be, I am referring to a fear of mountains of dishes, leaving little room to navigate.

It’s not a fear that causes me sleepless nights but I will admit that it does trigger a compulsion for keeping the kitchen as clutter-free as possible.

When I first moved out on my own, I always kept a pretty tidy bachelor pad. However I was a bit more lenient in the kitchen area. Without a dishwasher in my modest little galley kitchen, I sometimes let dishes go for a day or two, until there was enough to warrant pulling out the rubber gloves. After all, it was just me producing dishes, and I admit I became pretty frugal in my use of dishes (i.e., eating out of napkins or over the kitchen sink) to avoid accumulations.

But it didn’t take long for me to figure out that this approach was not entirely practical with a kitchen that was just slightly larger than a postage stamp.

Plus, when consuming all three meals at home (I lived just a couple of blocks from my office so I could easily dash home at lunch time), some pile ups came quickly. Continue reading

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Any Time is Cereal Time

a bowl of Cheerios cerealIt’s only when you start living with someone that you find out that something that might appear perfectly normal to you, might look weird to someone else.

With my partner and me, one of those things is cereal.

My partner typically eats cereal in the morning as many people do. But for myself, any time is cereal time.

However, I had no idea that my way of consuming this crunchy goodness later in the day would raise eyebrows in the way that it did.

It was when I confessed to him that I rarely ate cereal before noon that I seemed to truly go… against the grain.

The reality is that while I was growing up, the health food store was a regular stop on our weekly errands, long before health food stores gained the popularity that they attract today.

On grocery day, it didn’t matter how many cereal commercials I could quote from my Saturday morning cartoons “as part of a balanced breakfast”, brown eggs, yogurt and protein shakes were the preferred breakfast options in our household. Continue reading

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A Post about Toast

Two perfect toasted pieces of toast on a plateThey say that in life, you need goals, right?

It’s not that I lack ambition, but some days, just getting the perfect piece of toast is a major achievement.

It’s like a duel between me and the toaster. It’s like Wile E. Coyote versus the Road Runner… and this is from someone who doesn’t really have a competitive streak.

It really boils down to choosing the correct setting number on the toaster, based on the type of bread that I am using on that particular day. Given the variables involved, some days I feel like I am playing the “Safe Cracker” game on The Price is Right.

When I correctly choose the setting number and out comes a perfect piece of toast, I feel like Rocky in that scene when he successfully runs up that staircase at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

When I don’t get the right setting, the overcooked, petrified toast makes me feel defeated like Charlie Brown, after Lucy takes away the football just as he is about to kick it across the field.

Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if we could just put bread into the slot, pull down the lever and walk away, knowing that a perfect piece of toast will be ready moments later?

I imagine that some of you might be asking, “Is your toaster broken? Mine comes out fine.”

I am pretty sure that my toaster works fine too. The problem is that my bread choices are constantly evolving. If I stuck to the same kind of bread every day, a perfect piece of toast could indeed be feasible. Continue reading

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The Trouble with Walnut Trees

When we moved to our country property, I really had no idea what a non-stop learning experience I would be encountering.

With a fascinating collection of trees growing throughout our little lot, technology became my best friend for identifying and researching each type’s unique characteristics and needs for proper care.

The first time I heard of black walnut trees was when we contacted an expert to examine a couple of trees that looked like they were having near-death experiences. He suggested that the reason for their illness was the black walnut trees that send a poison through their root system to kill off neighbouring trees, thereby hoarding water and nutrients for itself. It’s mean but that is the way that species of tree operates in the spirit of self-preservation.

I have to admit, I was such a novice in the gardening department, I was surprised that our cold weather and relatively short growing season would support any kind of nut tree. I thought that they only grew in warmer climates. You learn something new every day!

The first growing season after we moved in, we experienced a drought that seemed to put all of our trees in survival mode, as we didn’t see much action from the apple trees nor the black walnut trees.

The second year was a completely different story. One of our apple trees was beyond generous, as I described in my posts, My First Apple Tree (Part 1) and (Part 2).

When fall rolled around, it was the black walnut trees’ turn to deliver. And wow, did they deliver! It was a nutty time.

While I could just leave the nuts for the squirrels and chipmunks to stash away as their winter food, or leave the nuts there to decompose, the reality is that there were just so many of them. Plus, I assumed that we likely wanted to avoid having them take root in the lawn and risk killing off other beautiful plants and shrubs. We started moving them to a temporary pile, to gradually incorporate them into the garbage or in preparation for the dump.

I discovered that there was no use in putting them in paper yard waste bags until the day we were ready to dispose of them. Our badass chipmunks completely destroy the bags to get to the nuts. That being the case, I didn’t want to risk putting bags in the garage either for fear of attracting them and causing collateral damage.

At first, the walnuts fell at a pretty manageable rate. I could scoop them up with a great tool I picked up at a local hardware store, without straining my old back. But given the sheer magnitude of the trees, after a few weeks, it became a losing battle as the slightest breeze could knock the nuts out by the dozens.

They were falling so quickly, I tried to keep the cat away from the trees during our supervised walks, but you know what happens when you say no…

As she stood under one of the trees, sniffing away at the raw nuts that smell like a stronger version of Ivory soap, I often found myself sheltering her little head with my hands, to protect her from falling nuts. Next year I may need to invest in a cat crash helmet, just in case.

Given the consistently heavy downpour of nuts, it was time to revert to the wheelbarrow to collect them up and transport them to the temporary pile.

The sad part is that our neighbouring petting zoos aren’t interested in these nuts in the same way that we were able to unload our excess apples to be happily enjoyed by their pigs and goats.

As for human consumption, I checked a few online videos describing the process to take a raw black walnut and to prepare it for cooking and baking. Let’s just say that I did not retire from a full-time job to take on the full-time job of processing and drying nuts.

Unfortunately, when collecting and transferring a heavy bucket of nuts into a garbage bag, I sent my back into a level of distress I haven’t experienced in many years. The backache was not fun, but thankfully it sorted itself out within a couple of weeks with a series of gentle stretching exercises.

As much as I love the beautiful canopy of our black walnut trees, providing wonderful shade on the hottest of summer days, there is a price to pay for these natural beauties.

Keeping up with the avalanche of nuts this year was a lot of work, far more than I envisioned. However, looking on the bright side, I have to count my blessings that this tree operates on a different timeline than our abundant apple trees, offering us a break between both harvests.

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Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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Rediscovering the Joy of Cooking

By the time I moved into my first apartment, I can’t say I was ever really daunted by the prospect of cooking for myself. Armed with a variety of secret family recipes and a natural curiosity to explore more exotic food options, I think I had the right mindset to experiment in the kitchen and to discover new favourites.

At that time, as an entry-level employee, without huge responsibilities on my shoulders, I had free time and headspace to play in my first kitchen. I clipped and collected recipes from newspapers, magazines and even the TV Guide, and I slowly built up a repertoire of favourite recipes.

However, in 2005, developing an intolerance to wheat products was a serious game changer as I pretty much had to toss out my recipe book and start over. Regrettably, switching out regular flour for gluten-free flour was not a recipe for success. It’s not always that simple.

Fortunately, at that point, I still had the energy, time and headspace to “play with my food” to rebuild the repertoire.

However, it was around 2012 that I started to feel a certain ambivalence toward the kitchen. Whether it was the faster pace at the office, my increasing level of responsibility, my increasing level of stress or just an overall fatigue about cooking for myself, my interest in experimenting with recipes was on the decline.

By that time, I had developed a pretty decent repertoire of gluten-free recipes that froze well. That way, I didn’t have to cook for myself (or repeat the same meals) every day. As long as these go-to recipes continued to perform well, I didn’t need to stress myself out in trying new recipes that may or may not work.

During my limited vacation time, after enjoying some time to rest and to decompress, I felt glimmers of interest in putting new recipes to the test. With varying degrees of success, I was able to slowly add to the repertoire. Continue reading

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Overcoming My Fear of Pie Crust

For years, I avoided it.

The few times I experienced it were beyond stressful.

When I was forced to switch to a gluten-free diet, it became the impossible dream.

I am referring to pie crust… specifically, making pie crust.

Pie crust was one of those life skills that I just never seemed to pick up.

Back in the pre-gluten-free days, I did give it my best shot on a few occasions trying to make normal pie crust. I would get all the ingredients ready and clear off plenty of counter space for the rolling process. But somewhere along the way, I never really got the feel for it.

To me, it seemed that there was such a narrow window of opportunity to bring pie dough across the finish line. The dough couldn’t be too wet. The dough couldn’t be too dry. And you couldn’t roll it for too long or else risk overworking the dough, resulting in a crust the texture of cardboard.

These three factors, combined with my uninspiring results, were enough to keep me away for months at a time.

Rolling the dough was the part that challenged every ounce of patience within me.

The dough would stick to the rolling pin, the counter, my utensils and my hands… everything except the pie plate to which it was supposedly destined.

I would try a light sprinkling of flour on the counter and on the rolling pin to prevent the dough from sticking, but by the time I had something resembling a fully rolled out pie shell (if I got to that point at all), it seemed like the entire kitchen was covered in a light dusting of flour.

My pies would not be complete without a side order of anger, anxiety and high blood pressure. Continue reading

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Overthinking the Food Court Experience

A few weeks ago I was so delighted to have the opportunity to step out of rural village life for a couple of hours and make a trip to the city. Even though the occasion was a simple dental check-up that would likely only last 15 minutes, I still looked forward to the change of scenery.

Clearly I didn’t get out enough over the last 17 months, if a trip to the dentist was so highly regarded as a joyful escape.

I knew that by the time my appointment would be finished it would be close to lunch time. I strategically parked my car at a nearby shopping mall where I knew I would have had plenty of gluten-free options to feed my ravenous appetite, following weeks of yard work and apple picking that had my metabolism revving on high.

When the dental appointment was over I made my way back to the mall and started exploring my options. Regrettably, a couple of my favourite vendors were no longer there. I understood the way that the waves of the pandemic had not been kind to businesses given the unfortunate closures that resulted.

But the flow chart for deciding what to have for lunch was considerably more complicated than it used to be. Covid-19, thou art an insidious bitch!

By that point, I estimated that I had likely applied hand sanitizer at least 47 times in my journey to, from and during the dental appointment. I had no issue with the extreme precautions to keep everyone (including myself) safe. However, even if I ducked into the washroom to wash my hands for several minutes, the potential residue of a morning’s applications of hand sanitizer might have left a lingering aftertaste. I already found that out the hard way. I eliminated hand-held foods from the list of potential meal options.

Next was the issue of where to sit to enjoy my meal. Continue reading

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My First Apple Tree (Part 2)

After a few weeks of non-stop activities surrounding the apple tree that wouldn’t stop dropping bushels of apples, I finally got a day off thanks to thunderstorms.

I took a moment to realize what a struggle it had become to wedge in the apple picking, the sorting and the distribution, between everything else I needed to do and before it got too hot and humid outside. I had to suspend pretty much all other garden maintenance work when I had only a limited window to work with in the early morning.

With the apple tree still dropping apples faster than we could collect them and everyone’s hands cramping from peeling the apples we gave them, I was feeling stressed.

With bags of apples accumulating quickly, getting progressively larger and waiting for the next “disposal”, we were attracting more than our fair share of insects and possibly fauna as I kept spotting partially eaten apples showing up in random parts of the property nowhere near the apple tree.

Funny enough, I realized that in the recent rush of apple activity, I was too busy to notice that my legs and glutes weren’t burning anymore. I guess the body adjusted to the intense activity… hello bright side!

When I took to the Internet to do some research, I discovered that yard work can burn about 300 calories per hour. That seemed to bring a whole new perspective and positive mindset about the time and effort I was devoting to the apples. When stretching, squatting and moving bags of heavy and wet apples was part of my daily morning routine, who needs a gym work out consisting of stretches, squats and weights? Continue reading

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