The Phone Call…Part I

My parents are…unique.  Yes, that’s a good and ambiguous word to describe them.  My mom and dad depart from Canada every year in the spring and do not return to Canada until fall has begun.  Where are they?  They have a humble mansion-like home in Croatia.  So, what is a good daughter to do in order to keep in touch with her parents?   Why, she phones them regularly to ensure that all is well and that they are having a happy-go-lucky life.  Well, that is what a daughter with non-unique parents would do.  Me?  There is a bit of a process to ensure I can keep my sanity intact.

Whilst in Croatia, my folks reside a mere 15 minute drive from the grandiose city of Split.  My father is an avid vegetable / fruit gardener and bee keeper.  My mother is right there by his side.  Not willingly.  It’s kind of a wifely self-imposed prison sentence I think.  She prefers to cook and bake.  Sadly, there is only so much baking you can do if everyone around you is on a diet or diabetic.  This is the Croatian village life.  I felt this was important to mention so that you could more clearly understand my need to mentally prepare myself for … the phone call.

It’s Sunday in Canada.  Morning has passed.  It is now 2 pm.  I debate on whether it’s a good day to call.  Am I feeling happy?  Am I feeling energetic?  Could I handle a barrage of negativity?  Can I be supportive?  If my questions result in a sum of 3 out of 4 then it’s NOT a good day to call.  If I’m super-hyped and feeling supremely happy, then I take a few deep yoga breaths and dial the number.  I close my eyes and mentally prepare myself.  I never know what type of conversation I might be subjected to.

A typical phone call would start as follows:

[phone ringing.  Mom picks up]  Hello?

Me:  Hello.  How are you?

Mom: OOOOOOH!  It’s you! (in a piercing, ear-splitting voice).  Is everything ok?  Is there something new?  Why are you calling?

Yes, every single conversation begins this way.  Her highest hope is that there is some life changing news that she can share with everyone in the village and/or the rest of Croatia.  This standard call can then morph into one of the following sub-conversations.

MORBID.  With my parents, being part of the elder generation, there is a good chance that there was a funeral, or few, that they had to attend.  My mother provides me with the obligatory synopsis of the deceased’s life, what illness they ailed from, and how lucky that they no longer need to live in pain and suffering.  Her voice is sad and verges on tears.  From funerals she might proceed to discussion of the poor surviving family members, especially if someone else is ill.  In most cases, I have no idea who these people are.  I am obliged to listen intently and ask NO questions.  Questions only lead to attacks of my person and “how can you not remember them?!”  DEFINITELY no questions.

ONE-SIDED.  This is always an interesting one.  After the “anything new?” question, she will go on a diatribe about…almost anything!  It could be a person or people, or a group of people.  It could touch on the government and its uselessness.  Which government?  Why…any government!  They are all crooks.  It could segue to taxes and the exorbitant price of food.  Maybe the weather is uncooperative.  Too much rain.  Not enough rain.  Too much sun.  Too hot.  Too cold.  Too many bugs.  From bugs to things bugging her like her aching back and sore legs.  Why is it one-sided?  I could say something, but she doesn’t hear me.  I have actually put her on hold, picked up my other line for about a minute, gone back to her and there has been no pause in conversation on her end.  She hadn’t even realized I had put her on hold.  These are the days that I don’t mention anything on my end.  She either won’t hear me, and if she does, she won’t remember it.

THE LITANY:  This type has some of the elements of ONE-SIDED, but is mostly a regular list of complaints, usually dealing with the unbearable actions of my father.  It would include, working long hours in the field, the amount of food he consumes, his argumentative behaviour, his self-righteousness, his loud voice, his deafness, and lastly, his method of breathing.  Yes, my father does not breathe as a regular human should.  Don’t ask me to explain, I don’t hear it the way she does.

HAPPY:  This is my most cherished type of phone conversation.  I find this one usually occurs if I haven’t called in over a month.  My mother is happy that I had called.  She is happy that I am healthy.  She is happy that everyone is doing well.  She is happy with her life.  The torrential rainstorm is no longer a scourge, but a great nurturer of the vegetables.  The sweltering heat of the sun is helping everything grow better.  My father is an amazing person.  He is so helpful and kind.  She just can’t do anything without him.  She has visited with family…or better yet, family came to visit her and she cooked and baked and everyone loved it!  They had so much fun!  Yes, this is my all time favourite exchange.  It is also usually the shortest one.  There is only so much good news and “happy” thoughts one can sustain.

As you may have noticed, I have only mentioned my mother in all these phone conversations.  This is due to two facts:  1)  My mother likes answering the phone or 2) My father has answered the phone, said “Hello [blah, blah for 2 seconds]” and then “here’s your mother.”

And….everyone together now…deep breath in…exhale…

Prepare yourself for:  The Phone Call – Part II.

 

 

 

 

 

“Chopped” Chef or…Chef Chopped?

Although I don’t write about it much, I am a foodie.  I loved the Food Network…when it first came out.  It was great watching chefs showing you how to prepare meals.  I learned a lot.  What do I see now on the foodie stations?  Competitions.  I believe I have come up with a new concept that I want to pitch to the “foodie” networks.  (Note:  I should probably copyright this as someone is going to read this and steal my idea.)  A new cooking show that involves:  COMPETITION!  (I know, right?  A very novel and inspiringly new idea).

Before I reveal my superb revelation, think about all the competitive cooking shows on tv right now.  It’s the same trifecta:  1) Judges 2) Chefs 3) Time limit.  Who can bake the greatest cupcake in the shortest time?  Who can use the weirdest ingredients to make meals (again, clock is ticking)?

IMG_3306Which child can create exotic meals and desserts.  As time passes, I see that there are more and more cutthroat culinary shows being created.  I figured, why not jump on the bandwagon and create another show?  My genius idea came to me suddenly while I was watching Chopped

The gem of an idea began brewing in my grey matter whilst observing my toddler grandchildren eat.  An absolutely brilliant idea for a new show.  It follows along the same lines of the other challenging cooking shows so it should be accepted into the fold.  It’s dastardly and degrading and demeaning (the dream “D” formula for television shows).

Here is my idea:  You want belittling?  You want chefs to be tortured?  You want to watch failure to the umpteenth degree?  I give you Chefs Chopped!  Yes the new and exciting show where trained chefs prepare meals for a panel of toddlers.  You want a challenge?  I am throwing down the gauntlet.

Have you ever tried to feed a toddler?  Yes, there are many of you who have.  You know what it’s like.  Well, in the “olden” days it was basically like this:

Parent:  (*Puts pot of grub on table)

Children:  (*snarf / yum / gobble)

Conclusion:  Lack of food makes you eat everything without complaint.

AFTER DEPRESSION / WWI / WWII:

Parent:  (*Puts food in front of child)

Child:  (*through tears) I don’t like it!

Parent:  Whack!  Eat it or I’ll hit you again!

(Ahhh…the fond memories of my childhood)

After the beating era of life, came the more educated era where there were books and papers and magazines and shows FULL of information on how to raise the perfect child.  This included healthy recipes for feeding your perfect child.  After creating one of these wonderful masterpieces, the food would be placed in front of said model child.  After much begging and pleading, ketchup would be doused all over the nifty, fancy food so that Perfect Child would eat SOMETHING…ANYTHING!

Nowadays, it is even more difficult to feed your child.  Allergies, preservatives, organic or non-organic, pesticides, hormones, cholesterol, saturated fats, etc.  What can you feed your child?  Well, if you listen to ALL the stories out there in web-world, your child should eat…nothing.  Yes, it’s true.  There is no good food out there.  Well, there is good food this week…but next week it will be bad so best not to tempt fate.

“Fruits and vegetables are good right?”  Nope.  Fruit is full of pesticides and many children are allergic to certain fruits.  “What about the frozen ones?”  Yeah…well welcome to E Coli.  “My children are vegetarian (or vegan).”  Good for them!  They won’t survive the food devastation either.  I have done the research.  Between E coli, parasites, viruses, bacterias, hormones, pesticides, etc. there will be nothing nutritious left to consume.

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I, so far, am very blessed and lucky with the kids and grandkids.  I have a few recipes that seem to generate happy smiles and full bellies:

  •  My homemade soup (with homemade noodles) has not killed or maimed any of them.  It is actually requested.  I get disappointed groans if it’s not on the menu.
  • Crépes – to be filled with whatever they choose (Nutella is winning this week)
  • Broccoli – this brassica appears to be a steamed vegetable they all agree on
  • Green beans – that, surprisingly, made the short list
  • Mozzarella – Sliced (not grated) however it must be made by Salerno
  • ANY pasta – lasagne, macaroni, fusilli, orzo…any pasta!

Now…meats, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, preferences vary as they get older (or basically, every 2 minutes).  Each week they decide what they like and don’t like.  It goes from the initial “YAY” whoop of joy to the “BOO” 10 minutes later when it’s on their plate.  Example:  “Can I have that apple?”  After two bites:  “I don’t want it,” and the subsequent attempt to put bitten fruit back into fruit bowl.  Next is the obvious grab for a different piece of fruit which eventually leads to cries of woe when they are informed that they must eat the two-bite-scarred apple first and THEN they can try something else.  Ahhhhh…the great adventures of toddler palate.

So, dear foodie channels, think about how fantastic this show would be!  Children smiling, waiting for their food.  Chefs cook and present their culinary masterpieces.  Suddenly, [camera zooms in] child starts deconstructing the plate.  Toddler Rule #1:  Thou shalt not let one type of food toucheth another.

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Example of carrot invasion into broccoli territory

That’s why many children’s plates are subdivided.

Next:  Food allergies.  Must remove all fruit(s) that child is allergic to.  The eating finally begins and then the contorted faces of disgust and the “Ewwwwws” and “Yucks” start to be heard.  The Chef with the least amount of ewws and yucks wins!  The others?  Well if they haven’t run away or started convulsively crying…then they get chopped (like a karate chop hand coming down on their picture…haha!)  What an amazing show!  All done in the name of fun and supreme competition!  Yes, I give you Chef Chopped!

P.S.  Dear foodie networks, I am available evenings and weekends for a meeting to discuss my future in the television industry.  You’re welcome!

 

Chef…a culinary experiment

I love to cook.  I love to buy colourful foods (vegetables and fruits) and figure out what to make with them.  I love to research (basically “Google” recipes) and try out new things.  I have now expanded my culinary skills to actually NOT following a recipe.  Does that mean I’m a chef?  Well, that is a definition I actually looked up.  Chef means that you cook meals for people.  Yes I do that!  It mentions something about restaurants too…ok, I don’t have a restaurant, but anyone eating at my home and people I work with think I should open one. Very complimentary, but I don’t think I’m quite at that level.  Anyway, in my mind “chef” has a different meaning.  CHEF – Can Have Experimental Food!  Yes, anyone eating my food is my chosen guinea pig to test new things.  Welcome to my thoughts and dissertations on food.

Food.  I could say it’s a love/hate relationship but I would be lying.  I LOVE FOOD!  I love experimenting with new recipes.  I love prepping it.  I love cooking it.  I love eating it.  Notice…there is a lot of love here.  The hate part is…I LOVE FOOD!  Let me explain my absolute food weaknesses…McDonald’s french fries.  I swear those are like crack-cocaine to me.  I don’t do drugs, but these hot little sticklettes make me weak in the knees.  After that or almost neck and neck is pizza.  What kind of pizza?   Hmmmm…thin crust, thick crust, tomato sauce style, white garlic/oil style.  Mozzarella or goat cheese.  Pepperoni or roasted eggplant and zucchini with balsamic drizzle.  To add to my super cholesterol heart-stopping food fest…CHICKEN WINGS!!!!  I am a Wing-nut!!  (In many ways…)  Those are my favourite, unhealthy indulgences.  Do I have an unhealthy relationship with food?  Perhaps…but what relationship is perfect?   Am I right?

History lesson:  when cooking as a child with my mother I got to lick the spinny-things from the hand mixer.  I got to mix the tomato sauce for pasta.  I got to eat pizza dough (oops…that was never supposed to be revealed).  My cooking lessons were as follows:

Mama:  NE TAKO!  (translation:  NOT LIKE THAT!)

Mama:  Sporije!  (translation:  slower!)

Mama:  Ovako.. (translation:  like this…)

Mama:  NE TAKO!  (translation:  NOT LIKE THAT!)

Mama:  Ovako mjesaj  (translation:  Mix like this)

Mama:  NE TAKO! (translation:  NOT LIKE THAT!)

So…there you have my basic cooking lessons.

Oh wait!  There are two more phrases my mother always used:

Mama:  Na umjerenoj vatri (translation:  bake at 350…she actually had to explain what middle heat meant and then I finally realized it was always 350 degrees)

And last but not least:

Mama:  Otprilike (about or approximately).  Yes most recipes had that included.  Any seasonings you were to use like salt or pepper, you were basically guessing how much was needed.  For a newbie learning how to cook that never helped.

So, when I started sharing my knowledge with others I improved the lessons I had received.  I liked to train by smell.  I also did not use measurements (bad teacher), but I would have the meat in a bowl, and then I would cover the tops of the meat with salt or pepper or paprika.  We would mix the meat and then I would ask my “student” to smell.  Yes…you can actually smell salt and pepper and paprika and you could know if there was too much.  Seriously!  Again, for beginners we would start with a few shakes because you can always start with less and add more but you can’t take away if you have added too much.  There.  That is my greatest cooking advice.

Am I a chef?  Yes, in my mind I totally am.  I cook food for people.  I love cooking!  I am practising baking (not quite perfect yet, but it’s all in the learning).  I have the best kitchen with my Wolf Subzero Stove.   I think that people who have tasted my creations can vouch for me.

To summarize…I LOVE COOKING!  I love filling my house with family (approx 20+ people) and cooking and enjoying their reactions to my recipes.  Nervous?  Absolutely!  I want everyone to love it!  Yes…there goes that “love” word again.  Why?   I truly believe that feeding people with food is nourishing, but I also believe that the love that I put into making my food transmits into internal happiness for those who consume it.  Food isn’t just about livelihood, it’s about sharing and caring.

My newest adventure is with old fashioned European foods (lately Italian), and putting my own educated spin on it.  Check out this lovely plain recipe full of flavoured layers and many “oh my this is good” in between bites!  My latest heartfelt and enjoyable culinary experiment.

RECIPE:

1 half baguette

1 large garlic clove

4 tbsp buratta (I think…approximately)

4 tbsp balsamic drizzle (basically balsamic vinegar and honey boiled down for 30 minutes until thickened…”google” for an actual recipe…otherwise…meh…approximately what you think will work)

THERE!  Authentic European recipe.  MANGIA!  (That’s amore…I mean Italian!)

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Toasted french stick bread, rubbed with fresh garlic. Buratta spread on top and drizzled with homemade balsamic drizzle

 

Bacon…and other hazards

It’s a rainy Saturday morning.  Good news is that I’m alive and I’m breathing!  Best of all…there is bacon frying in the pan.  I love the smell of bacon!  (Hence the extreme importance of having inhaling capabilities.)  I love the way it transforms from soggy white and pink strips to brown, crunchy, salty yumminess!  (I was going to say “goodness” but I’m sure my pulmonary valve would slap me).  As I move in closer to the stove top to flip the strips…ATTACK!  The bacon fat pops out of the pan and onto my arm.  Ouch!  It burns!  And yet, I stay there to complete the task.  That got my mind racing and thinking about other kitchen hazards.

Over the many years of frying bacon I have built up a super-power immunity.  My fingertips have also learned how to pick up hot cooked items and transfer them to other vessels.  Again, it’s a built up resistance.  Some days I feel like Wonder Woman …then again, I don’t think she could handle bacon grease, but I digress.  Below are what I believe to be substantial culinary threats.

COOKING HAZARDS:

  1.  FRYING
    • Whenever you have hot oil in a pan or pot you are challenging the kitchen gods.  You believe you will not be besieged by fiery oil droplets and yet they are laughing at you saying “Oh yeah?  Bring it on!”  Frying bacon (yes, I keep coming back to this deadly onslaught) can lead to either arm burns or grease on your clothes that for some reason will NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER wash out.  Frying potatoes…a.k.a. french fries.  If the taters aren’t dry you are looking at water going into boiling oil and this ultimately leads to the oil boiling over onto your stove.  BEWARE!
  2. SLICING
    • Welcome to knife-dom!  I used to think that dull knives would be better to ensure I wouldn’t get cut.  Those darn machetes always found a way to make me wish I had shares in “Band-aid”.  I learned to sharpen my knives (and my skills).  Using a dull knife on a tomato is what led me to the divine art of honing my knives.  It also guided me to new lessons in advanced first aid.  I could cut myself, yelp in pain, get an adhesive bandage unwrapped, apply first aid cream to it and hog-tie it to my finger in 45 seconds.  Boo-yah!).   Knives actually slid off the super thin tomato skin and would ultimately impale me.  After years of thinking I knew how to use a knife I saw a preview for a movie called Julie and Julia and decided to actually find the first cookbook from Julia Child.  In this book Julia showed me how to hold a knife and how to cut and slice things.  Beginner stuff.  I am very grateful to this wonderful woman for saving my appendages.  For you new chefs out there, here is a good link on how to proceed with onion cutting.
  3. BOILING
    • I always believed that boiling was safe.  Yes I did understand that hot water could burn you, but unless it was poured on your skin directly it was safe right?  Yeah-NO!  I recall the day I decided to make home cooked macaroni and tomato sauce.   The pasta was on sale and the sauce was Ragu sauce.  This was definitely within my newfound culinary skills.  I put water in a pot.  I added salt.  I felt like a true wife/mother/chef!  I put the lid on the pot and waited for the water to boil.  It took longer than it should have because I kept lifting the lid to see if the water was boiling.  Hence the phrase “a watched pot never boils.”  Although an idiom about patience, I followed the true meaning…that darn water won’t boil while I’m watching.  Whilst playing with the kids I heard the pot lid clanging.  The water was boiling!  Yay!  I lifted the lid and promptly burned my wrist. Yes…steam is lethal.  You thought bacon fat was bad?  Steam burns last several days.
  4. BAKING SHEETS
    • I decided to branch off and learn to bake.  Cooking is more fun because there is room for error.  Lots of room for trial and error.  Baking?  Heck no!  There is a reason everything is measured to the minutest ounce / milligram.  My old oven had this wonderful ejection mode when pulling out the baking rack which catapulted super hot cookie sheets onto my awaiting bare arms.  To date only one major burn; an inch long and half inch in diameter.  THAT is my real life cooking tattoo.  Also a daily reminder of being careful when playing with fire.

I am sure there are many other hazards I could reveal to you, but then you would surely want to eat out daily or hire a chef to make your meals.  I have lived, breathed, survived many culinary challenges and I LOVE cooking!  I love hearing the click, click, whoosh of my gas stove firing up.  I know there are new adventures in foodie-dom for me.  One thing I learned from dear Julia Child was:

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”

Worst case scenario, I can always hook up with my granddaughter Kennie and we can make food into art.  XOXO

macaroni art