Category Archives: food

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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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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