Category Archives: food

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.

Needless to say, because it was an exercise in frustration that left me feeling defeated, I didn’t practice often.

I never really needed to pursue thrill-seeking sports over the years. For me, just the thought of making pie crust would get the adrenaline pumping for me in the same way that skydiving might for someone else.

One could argue that “practice makes perfect”. As my career got busier over the years, even though “practice pie crust” was a recurring item on my to-do lists, it didn’t get scratched off the list very often. If I was stressed from work, why would I stress myself further at the prospect of perpetuating my failure at making pie crust?

Also, from week to week, when time (or energy) was in short supply, I didn’t have the luxury of being able to experiment in the kitchen. My recipes needed to be a sure thing, to keep the fridge or freezer well-stocked for the week ahead.

That being the case, I just avoided making anything involving a pie crust and just stuck to cookies and squares. The bright side is that I got pretty good at those.

Fast forward to my diagnosis of a wheat intolerance (about 15 years ago). When perusing the shelves of local health food stores, I did try some of the pre-made gluten-free fruit pies and meat pies. I recall some of those early ones were OK, while others had a sandy, gritty texture that had me excusing myself from the table to get some dental floss.

I did try making a gluten-free pie crust in those early years, but the result was even more disastrous than my experience with regular pie crust. A plastic Frisbee would have been more tender and flaky.

In more recent years, the health food store gluten-free pies definitely evolved and advanced. The really good ones were a little pricey, but I indulged from time to time.

It was the convergence of retirement and having an overabundant apple tree that pushed me to give gluten-free pie crust a try again.

By that time, I had already discovered the consistently positive results I experienced with recipes that I tried from America’s Test Kitchen. I already felt hopeful that their recipe for gluten-free pie crust (with its very precise instructions) might be my ticket to pie success.

I admit that the adrenaline was indeed pumping hard as I began, but I set aside plenty of time to go through it, slowly and methodically, following every instruction to the letter. On more than one occasion, I had to remind myself to breathe as I found myself in shallow breathing mode, as the stress of the graveyard of past pies kept surfacing.

But to my great delight, the apple pie turned out perfectly.

I chalked it up to beginner’s luck, but with a positive result comes the confidence to try again!

A couple of weeks later, I decided to try a tourtière, a French-Canadian meat pie, often served at festivities around Christmas and New Year’s. I called my Mom for a refresher on the family recipe for the filling which I would incorporate into a gluten-free crust.

When I set my mind to making it, the adrenaline was pumping even harder as there was not only the pie dough itself to get right, but I could feel the weight of generations of ancestral grandmothers and great grandmothers on my shoulders, making sure I don’t screw up this traditional dish, a symbol of French-Canadian culture for a couple of centuries.

No pressure here!

Again, I followed the instructions to the letter, taking my time to remember to breathe and to re-read each word meticulously. The preparation went well. The assembly went well… In the oven it went.

As the familiar scent of Christmas permeated the kitchen, I already had a pretty good feeling about the result. When the top crust started turning a golden brown (like the apple pie did), I was already mentally high-fiving myself.

As luck would have it, it turned out beautifully. My partner and I both enjoyed it, as we did the leftovers.

With two home runs under my belt, I kept going. With the leftover pie dough I made apple turnovers which turned out deliciously. I made another half recipe of pie dough to make a couple of single serving tourtière pot pies (using the meat that was left over from the big tourtière) which turned out great.

Not only can I say I conquered my fear of making pie crust, but I have awoken a curiosity to expand the repertoire into other types of pies, pot pies and pastries.

Fortunately, with retirement, I now have the free time to explore the possibilities and to play in the kitchen.

I plan on practicing more, but I will be staying in my lane, keeping up with the gluten-free pie crust recipe that has worked so well for me.

Will I ever go back to trying to make a conventional (non-gluten-free) one? With the experience and confidence that came with making gluten-free ones, perhaps someday the inspiration, curiosity and courage will be in sufficient supply to want to try normal pie crust again. Time will tell.

Either way, I think I have overcome my fear!

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Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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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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My First Apple Tree (Part 1)

When we first moved into our home in the country, we were quite enamoured by the two apple trees on our property.

For me, apple trees bring back childhood memories of a Macintosh apple tree that sat on the property line between our place and our neighbours’. The girl next door and I climbed that tree, we played in that tree and we daydreamed in that tree.

It was the neighbours’ tree however, and the neighbour took care of it, so none of that maintenance work shows up on my CV of my life experience.
Was I prepared for fruit tree ownership in adulthood?

That first season after the move, neither of the trees on our property bore any significant amount of fruit. We ran through a few scenarios to explain the reasons why: Could it be the trees’ age? Could it be the drought that put the trees in survival mode? Perhaps the trees were biennuals.

Either way, I count my blessings retroactively that the trees didn’t create any additional work for us given how busy we were with other urgent home maintenance projects while unpacking and juggling busy careers.

This spring, the apple trees graced us with beautiful blossoms and the greatest hope that we might see some fruit in the coming months.

In early June, the tree with the yellow transparent apples started dropping the first of its teeny tiny fruit. To me, this was a sign that the tree was well on its way. At that point, the apples were too small for any functional purposes so I just picked them up and put them in the yard waste bags.

But every time I looked up and saw just exactly how many apples were in the tree waiting to reach fruition, I wasn’t sure whether I should be happy or afraid. It was a massive apple tree.

Either way, I had TV-inspired visions of leisurely mornings, pulling out the stepladder, picking a few choice pieces of fruit for that day and then spending time in the kitchen making glorious baked goods.

The Pollyanna in me had a very pretty sweet view of what life with an apple tree could be.

That is… until a couple of weeks later when the apples started to mature, and seemingly all at the same time. Some days, they dropped at a rapid pace like a violent hailstorm of apples. It was in that moment that I knew how Henny Penny felt. Continue reading

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The Dreaded Super-Sized Grocery Cart

For as long as I can remember, when it came to grocery shopping, I was almost always a handbasket kind of guy.

Back when I was driving to work every day, it made perfect sense to make a quick stop on the way home to buy just the items needed in the short term, and then to breeze through the express checkout.

For those rare times that a handbasket wasn’t enough, I might have opted for the smallest shopping cart possible and going through a regular check-out lane, but that was fine. All in all, it was a pretty efficient system for me for many years.

But why might I have an aversion to super-sized grocery carts? It might be due to trust issues resulting from being stuck with the cart with the annoyingly bad wheel, no matter how infrequently I may use them.

Or possibly, is it just a hyper sensitivity to spatial awareness that I fume when I am stuck behind someone with the big cart, parked in the middle of the aisle, and having to wait for them to make a life-or-death grocery decision before getting through. With a hand basket, I could just suck in my stomach and go around them before they even noticed that I was there.

When my partner and I moved in together, I understood that shopping for two might mean using the small shopping cart more often. Of course, I was happy to make that change.

But then Covid-19 happened.

With public health officials advising us to stay home, to only make essential trips, and recommending less frequent grocery runs, it took some adjusting. But because making lists is one of the things I do with great joy and enthusiasm, it seemed like the transition to a 7-day shopping trip for two people should be easy enough.

But it took some adjusting there as well. Continue reading

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Taking the Microwave Oven for Granted

I don’t think we realize how much we appreciate an appliance until it isn’t there for us.

And when the option to replace it quickly is not there either because microwave ovens are backordered everywhere due to supply chain issues resulting from Covid-19, that is when the reality check sets in.

A few months after we arrived in our new place, we were sitting in the living room, watching TV, when we heard the microwave making beeping noises. We weren’t cooking anything, we hadn’t left anything in it, and frankly there was no reason for it to be beeping, but it was. We dismissed it as just a random incident and didn’t think much of it.

But in the days that followed, it happened again and again. Not just one or two beeps, but a series of beeps like our microwave oven was receiving Morse code from somewhere, and for prolonged durations. Even in the quiet of the night, from our bedroom we could sometimes hear the beeping competing with our cat’s nightly choir practice.

We just chalked it up to another one of our house’s “stories of the unexplained”.

A few weeks later, without being asked, the microwave’s screen started showing us random recipe instructions and maintenance instructions, or going into “demonstration mode”. We started wondering if the microwave was slightly haunted. But we took the scientific approach and unplugged the microwave, waited one minute, and then plugged it back in. It seemed to work fine… for a while. Continue reading

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Country Living: Farm-to-Table

One of the best parts about moving to the country has been experiencing the joy of savouring freshly picked produce.

It is interesting the way that things have flip flopped: When I lived in the city, within a small radius, I had ten grocery stores to choose from, two farms from which I could buy seasonal produce, and one farmer’s market that would set up on Saturdays. In the country, I have one excellent grocery store nearby, I am surrounded by a multitude of farmers’ stands that sell produce, and around here, any day of the week is pretty much “farmer’s market” day.

Needless to say, we took full advantage of this opportunity.

Over the course of the last four months we have enjoyed fresh tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, green and yellow beans, peas, corn, potatoes, zucchini, broccoli, onions, garlic, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and several varieties of apples, all grown locally.

There have been other products available, but there just haven’t been enough hours in the day to try them all.

When you add to the mix a local butcher shop that also sources products from local suppliers, we have found ourselves marveling on more than one occasion at how everything on the dinner table was truly local.

I will be the first to say that I appreciate the convenience of a good supermarket that can sell you anything, anytime, especially in the middle of a Canadian winter when the ground is frozen and growing season is over. The availability of imported fruits and vegetables is certainly a delight to add colour and variety to our diets through the twelve months of the calendar year. Continue reading

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My Thunderous Rumbling Stomach

It seems like just yesterday, I had a stomach made of steel. When I was in my late teens and early 20s, I had a pretty fast metabolism and could eat anything and everything, any day, any time.

Where I used to be able to pack away large quantities of food and still remain technically underweight, today, a handful of potato chips is enough to have me retaining water like a sponge.

But the tide can turn from time to time. For me, all it takes is the return to a regular exercise regimen, like the one I have successfully incorporated into my routine last year.

When that happens, not only does my metabolic rate go up, but it’s like revisiting my teens and 20s all over again as I seem to be hungry… ALL THE TIME!

While logically, it should just be a case of finding an extra snack or two to tide me over until the next meal, it’s a little more complicated than that.

As much as you would think I could take advantage of the situation to indulge myself in the goodies I only consume in moderation (since I’m not technically underweight anymore), in reality, I don’t crave them when I work out regularly. The empty calories leave me hungry and wanting something else soon thereafter.

I tend to crave healthier snacks that sustain me better. If I don’t, I get so hungry that my arrival home is like a scene from “Animal Planet”, as I demolish leftover roast chicken like a lion devouring its prey. Continue reading

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What the 2010s Meant To Me

New Year's festivitiesIn recent weeks, not only have we been bombarded with retrospectives from the last year, but as with any year ending with a “9”, we’ve seen our lives flashing before our eyes with scenes from the last decade as well.

One evening, as I was stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic (again!), just for fun, I asked myself what were my own favourite moments of the last decade.

It was a fun activity that completely took me out of the drudgery of traffic. My spirits were lifted as I rattled off a list of great memories. When I got home, I took out the iPad and started noting them, one-by-one. In the days that followed, more ideas kept coming to mind and the list continued to grow.

Just like everybody else, I experienced personal and professional highs and lows. But it was because these experiences that I will remember this decade fondly as the one where I experienced the greatest and most significant personal growth.

Despite what I thought was a pretty good tool kit for handling stress, this past decade offered a pressure cooker of situations that tested my tool kit to its limits when anxiety took over. With the help of a psychotherapist, I was able to establish better boundaries which not only contributed to enhancing that tool kit, but also helped to prevent some situations from festering into anxiety in the first place. Continue reading

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Just Call Me “Bubbles”

For the last 20 years, as an avid cyclist and runner, getting my recommended 8 glasses of water each day was never a problem. Whether water, tea, coffee or milk, I almost always have a beverage on the go.

I know I must be getting enough fluids, because when I walk down the halls at the office, my tummy often makes swishy or “glug-glug” noises.

On the weekends, I might splurge and get into an occasional soft drink like cola, ginger ale or root beer. I really do like them, but I keep myself on a short leash, metaphorically speaking. Maybe it’s because my metabolism is getting older, but I just can’t put them away like I used to. For me, the tipping point between enjoyable and “I’ve had enough” comes quickly.

When I was preparing for my colonoscopy a few years ago, I don’t know exactly what part of my inner anatomy was complaining about the sweetness, but the ginger ale, popsicle and gelatin diet had me feeling pretty gross. No amount of clear chicken broth seemed able to sway the balance back to feeling normal, or as normal as one can be when trying to prepare for such a procedure.

Sparkling water was always something that I kept on the side as a treat. Even though it contains no sugar and makes a good building block for a variety of drinks, it can get expensive. Also, any leftovers tend to fizzle out after a day or two, which makes buying an economy size a huge question of commitment, unless I’m having a party. Plus, I can’t look at a plastic bottle without feeling a sense of deep environmental guilt.

When you combine all of these factors, for the last several months, I have been looking at SodaStream machines with increasing interest. But I also hesitated, not knowing how much use I would get out of it. Continue reading

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