Bitter Days Met with Sweet Candy

I went to a funeral today.  The Gentleman was a former colleague, someone I respected a whole tonne, had a lot of great memories but also someone I hadn’t seen in a few years.  It was remarkably sad but it was the kind of sadness you feel for his family and those who were closer than yourself.  It wouldn’t be fair to insert yourself into the drama and, therefore, it’s easier to move to the celebration of his memory and your shared experiences than those who were so much closer.

He was a great guy and I have fantastic memories of him.

But this post isn’t about him.  It’s about a small family food-related tradition when it comes to grief.  I remember attending my first funeral as a child and my Father handing me two packs of Life Savers.  He looked me in the eye and said, “These things are easier when you have something to suck on.”  I don’t know where he picked up that tradition but it’s one he still abides – and one that I’ve taken on.

I didn’t have any candy with me this morning (he wasn’t brand loyal); but I’ll pick up a pack or two of hard candy in the next few days and find a place to quietly reflect on the past.  I almost never eat hard candy (I prefer salt and savory) but this tradition runs deep within my family and my spirit.

It amazes me how deeply rooted food os within our psychological makeup and mental health (good and bad).  And I thought it might be worth sharing – “Life sucks a little less when you have something to suck on.”

Do you have any odd traditions like this?

Why do People Dislike the Gluten-Free so much?

I was going to title this post “Why do people hate the Gluten-free” because it seemed accurate but it also seemed inflammatory.  I can’t prove that people actually dislike gluten-free people at all but I’ve noticed what appears to be a massive trend on Facebook, Twitter and talking to people in general: there’s a lot of people celebrating a batch of studies that claim that “Gluten sensitivity May not be Real.”

Before proceeding I should state that I am not gluten-free.  I, in fact, may be the opposite of gluten-free (gluten-free-free?).  I love pasta, bread and anything with ‘gluteny’ goodness.  Although I’ve had many great gluten-free foods I think I’m less likely to order something marked ‘gluten-free’ on a menu than anything else (there is no good reason for this but I suspect there’s something at play in my subconscious mind about that).  I’m an unlikely champion for ‘gluten-free’ food but it doesn’t offend me – what you choose to put in your mouth is probably an area of life where my opinion couldn’t be more meaningless.

Yet I am seeing people celebrating the sensationalized headlines of specific articles around a few small studies, such as this one[Read more...]

3 Tips for Meeting People at Terroir (and Conferences in General)

I try to keep our content more than 99% on-subject.  That means I get to write 2-3 articles a year about things that wouldn’t otherwise appear on our website.  Things that have nothing to do with cooking, preserving, seasonal eating or celebrating people and businesses that are contributing to that discussion.

Today is one of those days.

Today is the 8th Annual Terroir Symposium (and the 4th time Dana and I have attended).  I’m beyond excited to be going and looking forward to meeting new people and reconnecting with old friends and acquaintances.  I also remember the first time I went to the event; I felt intimidated and wasn’t sure how I’d fit in – or if I would.

I attend a lot of conferences (in other fields) for work.  Despite being fairly extroverted, I have struggled at events like these.  I didn’t know how to meet people and I really felt insecure about that.  I’ve shared a few tips with friends over the last few days and, at their encouragement, decided to publish this article of 3 easy tips to help people meet each other at Terroir (or conferences in general).

3 ways to meet people at a Conference

  1. Ignore the introduction and ask a genuine question about their day.  Instead of exchanging formalities and entering an awkward introduction, as someone a question about their experience (such as; “What’s the best thing you’ve heard all day?”, “What speaker did you like so far and why?” or “Why did you decide to come today?”).  For years I used to walk up, formally shake hands and try to figure out what we had in common – I’ve found it far easier just to get the conversation going than starting with introductions.  It’s best to keep your question focused on the event because you instantly have a topic you can both discuss/ contribute to.
  2. Look for the lone wolf; invite others to your pack.  I almost didn’t use this description because I think it sounds cheesy but it’s true.  Find someone standing alone and initiate conversation.  Then invite others into your conversation; soon you’ll know far more people.  Remember: you’re not the only one struggling to meet people – most of us have the exact same struggle so make it easy for others to meet each other and the awkwardness will fade quickly.
  3. Use Twitter.  If you’re not on Twitter yet, don’t panic and register an account but know that it can be a tool to use in the future.  The Hashtag for Terroir is #Terroir2014.  By interacting with others at the conference on Twitter you can instantly start a conversation ‘in real life’ when you cross paths at the event.  Twitter can create familiarity with others (or give you something specific to ask about based on what they’ve tweeted) that makes introductions easier.

And a bonus tip: find Dana and I and say hi! 3 Tips for Meeting People at Terroir (and Conferences in General) terroir

What’s your tip for meeting others at Networking Events?

Unpleasant Pleasures Like a Mouth Full of Coffee Grounds

It’s been an intense week; time has accelerated past like it’s competing in some sort of drag race and I’m a spectator wearing cement shoes and am trying to catch up.  My odds of success aren’t so great. 

It’s times like these that, instead of trying to speed up to catch the impossible, that slowing down further for a few minutes can bring great sanity.  When the days fly by too fast I try to carve out a few moments here and there where I can just be in the moment, pause and collect myself.  I recently had such a moment, sipping a morning cup of coffee and contemplating them moment when ‘it’ happened: a swig of coffee turned into a moment of uncertainty as my mouth was consumed with an unexpected texture.  This gave way to the certainty of the moment – I had a mouth full of coffee grounds.

The offending vessel:

Unpleasant Pleasures Like a Mouth Full of Coffee Grounds

It’s funny that one can enjoy chocolate covered coffee beans or even cook with coffee grounds (like these smoky, salty, spicy coffee flavored roasted nuts) but the experience in other formats is less than pleasurable.  The experience got me thinking about the foods which bring us great pleasure in one format as opposed to another.  I tried to think of a few other things that we rely on transforming before eating, here’s what I came up with:

  • Tea is another such example although it’s pretty linear to coffee.
  • Few of us eat raw onions or garlic by themselves.  Cook them a little or mix them with other things and we suddenly have great pleasure from these things.
  • Honey *can* be eaten by the spoonful but I suspect that most of us eat it in combination with other things and not great quantities by the spoonful (although I, like others, have).  I suppose this is true of most sweeteners.
  • Watermelon rinds.  I can’t imagine eating them without pickling them first.
  • Salt, herbs, hot peppers and pepper.  All *can* be eaten independently but often rely on combinations with other things as opposed to consumed whole.
  • Grains, pasta, rice are generally infused with liquid (or grains can be baked as in a loaf of bread) before consuming (although you could argue the same for meat and fish there are plenty of exceptions for each which do not rely on cooking).
  • Some veggies are better ‘pure’ but others just need cooking to transform themselves into something edible (imagine eating a lot of yam, potato or eggplant raw?)
  • Raw olives would be a close parallel – they are processed in order to be eaten (although I’m told that you can eat ripe ones off the tree, I’ve never had the fortune).

I don’t know why I’ve found this so fascinating but I suppose that’s the pleasure of living in the moment – even if it is with a mouth full of coffee grounds.

What else would you add to the list?

How to Tile a Backsplash – Step 2 – Install

This should be the easiest step of all if you’ve spent your time on planning.  The key is to know what you have to do off the top of your head so that you can install without needing to check your instructions.  The adhesive and grout dry moderately fast so you’ll want to execute without delay.

How to Tile a Backsplash   Step 2   Install

Make sure to check the instructions on the items you’ve purchased (there’s a list of required items on yesterday’s post about planning) and read the instructions on each as different tiles/ grout may have different requirements.

Day 1 – Apply Tiles

  1. Clear your counter entirely (you’ll be able to use it again in a few hours; just clear it to work on it).
  2. Wash your wall.
  3. I know that the proper procedure is to start from the center of your project.  I was running a narrow space and knew that my tiles were exactly 6 feet wide – as was the width of my counter.  I started from one side and was satisfied with the results – it starts and ends exactly where I wanted it to.
  4. Using the small trowel, put adhesive on the large trowel.  The small trowel simply allows you to easily reach the adhesive that’s in the container.
  5. Apply the adhesive using the jagged side of the trowel (around a 45 degree angle).  Assuming you picked the right trowel for the depth of your tile (I asked for help), this will lay enough adhesive for your tile.  Work about a square foot at a time (I used the empty box of a tile for a quick check) and make sure that there is adhesive under each piece of the tile.
  6. Push your tile (in my case it was a 1-foot by 1-foot sheet of tiles) into the adhesive and hold for a few moments.
  7. depending on your size of tiles, this is where you use spacers (they look like ‘plus signs’; point one end towards the wall which will leave the other pointing out so that you can easily remove it).  My entire project included 12 sheets of tiles and was easy to set by hand.  I made a few small mistake of which I was able to correct all but one; however I’m the only one who notices that one.
  8. Continue until done.

Day 2 – Apply Grout

  1. Grout is almost like sand.  Start by using your small trowel to apply it to your grout trowel (it’s like a thick sponge; it spreads grout without scraping your tile).
  2. Spread grout on your tiles with the trowel.  Make sure that all of the spaces between the tiles are filled.  You may need to delicately use the small trowel to help.  Work 1-2 square feet at a time.
  3. Push the grout further in and clean the tiles using a large, damp sponge.  It will look like a mess at first but it will quickly clean up and look good.  Get all the grout you can off the tiles as it’s far easier now than after drying.

Day 3 – Seal the Grout

  1. Clean the tiles again with the sponge; after this step it will become really difficult to clean the tiles of any leftover grout.
  2. Use the sponge brush to seal the grout – this will allow you to clean the tiles without washing grout away in the future.

That’s it – we hope this helps!

How To Tile A Backsplash – Step 1 – Plan, Plan, Plan

I recently shared that I surprised Dana with a new back splash (there’s some closer pics at that link):

How To Tile A Backsplash   Step 1   Plan, Plan, Plan

Before I proceed with the first of two posts on how to do a project like this, let me start with a warning: I am a novice.  A newbie.  I have never done anything like this before and can’t guarantee even my own results.  I did ask a lot of questions, relied on the knowledge of others and learned/ used some tricks that were ideal for a beginner.  Use these posts with caution – but know that I am sharing because though my experience is small, I believe in the results.

Laying tile is not complex.  Here’s the general steps (they are spread out over a few days, more detail tomorrow):

  1. Measure everything.  Lots.
  2. Buy tile, adhesive, grout and other supplies (details below).
  3. Clean wall.
  4. Apply adhesive, apply tile, cut tile and apply adhesive.
  5. Let dry.
  6. Apply grout.
  7. Wipe with sponge.
  8. Let dry.
  9. Wipe with sponge to get final details off.
  10. Seal grout.

Not a big deal really.

However, the most important step isn’t in the list above: planning.  I knew that by the time I’d get adhesive on the wall that I’d have to know what the next steps were without thinking.  The actual application of the tiles, grout and sealer took 3-4 hours (at most) while my planning took closer to 20.

Here’s a few of the decisions/ steps I made in planning that made this project relatively easy and are my essential tips for starting a project like this:

  1. Measure everything 2-3 times.  “Everything” includes the width and height of the space your covering as well as exact locations of outlets or anything else that may get in the way.
  2. Calculate the square footage (the number of feet wide x the number of feet high) as well as square inches (multiply the first number by 144).  You may need to convert to metric depending on the product you buy.
  3. Use graph paper to draw the layout you’re trying to cover, including outlets and other pieces.  This is critical – it allows you to ‘bring the wall’ to the store.
  4. Head to the store, browse options but make no decisions until consulting with a pro who works there.  If the person doesn’t appear to be knowledgable, move on.
  5. Decide on a tile.  Don’t choose only based on looks.  This step can make a project like this super easy or beyond difficult.  Here were the key decisions I made:Decision #1 – Tiles with Mesh
    I opted to buy tiles that were already on a mesh background and in 1 foot square sheets.  This meant that I had to lie 12 sheets (6 full, 6 partial) to cover my wall and not lay individual tiles.  It was more expensive but saved hours of work and meant I had to align far fewer things so my final results would look much, much better:

    How To Tile A Backsplash   Step 1   Plan, Plan, Plan

    Decision #2 – The size of tile
    Once I knew I was using mesh, I had to decide on what tiles I liked.  My ideal tile was white subway tile.  Subway tiles are staggered which means that there would be a LOT of cutting involved – cutting on each end of the back splash as well as around the power outlet.  Experienced people will laugh at me shying away from cutting tile but the truth is that I didn’t want subway tile badly enough to take on the increased work and research (and possibly mediocre results of a novice tile cutter) associated with the decision.  So I decided on these tiny half-inch by half-inch tiles (they are made of stone and glass):

    The only cutting I had to do (the power outlet as well as cutting partial sheets for the lower part of the 16 inch high back splash from the 12 inch sheets) was done with scissors – simply cutting the mesh.behind the tiles.  This allowed for less custom equipment and a lighter learning curve.

  6. Have an equipment list.  I involved the person at the store who was pleased to help me choose:
    1. The right number of tiles
    2. The right adhesive (based on the tiles)
    3. The right sized tile trowel (based on tiles and adhesive) – I wish I had purchased a small one to make applying the adhesive and grout to the larger trowel
    4. Tile spacers (this determines the amount of space between tiles)..  If you’re using mesh tiles like us, two notes:
      1. These may be optional.  We had a small space and were laying 12 sheets.  Even though I bought spacers I found I could do this by eye.
      2. There are different sized spacers so you’ll need to make sure yours match the space already defined on the mesh.
    5. A large sponge
    6. The right grout (we used pre-mixed to skip a step and ensure we had the right consistency).
    7. Grout sealer
    8. A sponge brush for the grout sealer.
    9. A grout trowel (it’s like a very firm sponge instead of metal).
  7. A last tip for today: if your tiles come in a box, keep the box handy.  As the box was essentially the same size as the tile it was really handy for quick approximate measurements and far easier than holding a sheet of tile up to see how much space it would take.

Tomorrow we’ll share the blow-by-blow.

Any tips you would add?

Sneak Peek: Our New Tile and Glass Blacksplash

Our kitchen looked like this a few weeks ago:

Sneak Peek: Our New Tile and Glass Blacksplash

Dana was taking a course for the weekend so I cooked up a surprise:

Sneak Peek: Our New Tile and Glass Blacksplash

Pictures don’t really do it justice.  But here’s a closer look (this was before the final cleaning of the grout):

Have you ever wondered if you could tile a back-splash yourself?  This was a relatively simple project, in part because of the research done in advance and a few key decisions.  Come back next week for a 3-part series on how to tile your own back-splash!  For those who already have done something like this, we’ll also be asking you to share your tips and/or ideas as well!

Hope to see you then!

My Dirty Little Secret: Resolved

We shared our Kitchen Nightmare from yesterday.  We now have a much better system for storing items in our cabinet:

My Dirty Little Secret: Resolved January

If you look carefully in the image above, you’ll notice that the drain pipe goes ‘through’ the shelf on the left.  Although this system is plenty sturdy, I was able to cut two of the shelf struts off without weakening the shelf.

My Dirty Little Secret: Resolved January

We also cheated with the brackets – typically this system uses two brackets per ‘column’ of shelves.  In our case I hung 3 brackets to support two shelves (the center bracket supports one side of both shelves).  The system is plenty strong as two brackets usually support two or more shelves and our configuration means they support 1.5 each.

An unexpected benefit of this project was that we can easily store twice the things we used to – and it’s easier to access (no more avalanche of bowls!).  This means that our other (scarce) storage areas also have benefited by the relocation of some of their contents.

The absolute key to this project was measuring everything carefully before leaving the house to see what our options were.  We carefully measured everything and then plotted those measurements (and noted the heights of our space as well as the height of our food processor and other ‘tall’ kitchen items.  THis allowed us to ‘bring the kitchen’ on our shopping trip (each square on the grid paper was two inches):

The final solution has less than 2.5 inches of ‘extra’ room – meaning there was very little margin for error.

The cost was a little high compared to building by hand though the time savings were significant.  At the end of the day it cost us between $85-$100.  Given that we’ve liver here for 6 years, that’s around $15 a year or less than $1.50 per month.

My Dirty Little Secret: Weekend Storage Project

We have a horrible kitchen.  Until last year we had a total working surface of less than 4 square feet (it was closer to 2.75).  It is also carpeted (our landlord lives below the kitchen).  It’s really the only downside of an otherwise amazing space and it’s one I’ve cooked in for 6 years and found ways to enjoy it.  In other words, it ain’t pretty but it works.

My Dirty Little Secret: Weekend Storage Project January

On the surface, it doesn’t look THAT bad.  The upper-left cabinets store our pantry (though none of the 700 canned goods that are stored on the other side of the room on the great wall of preserves), the upper-right includes 3 shelves for plates, cups and an entire shelf of wine glasses.  The drawers on the bottom left serve their purpose: cutlery, kitchen tools and storage containers and dish cloths.

But then there’s the lower 3 doors.  They are my dirty little secret:

My Dirty Little Secret: Weekend Storage Project January

The one on the right is our ‘favourite’:

This weekend marks the beginning (and hopefully the end) of the journey to overhaul our cupboard storage.  We’ll share the final results here on the blog and some pictures in progress on our Facebook Group over the weekend.

Through the magic of the Internet you can fast forwad a day a see the results here now.

The Things I’ve Leaned in our Kitchen (2011) #4: I`m All About Umami

The first time I heard the expression `Umami` was in 2010 – Chef David Kinch was addressing a packed house at Terroir IV (a symposium primarily for te food industry that we`ve attended for the last 2 years).  It`s a Japanese word that describes the `5th` taste (in addition to sweet, bitter, sour and salty).  While most now accept that it is a unique taste, debates were common in the last 10 years as to whether umami was an independent taste – most now agree that it is and that there may be more unique tastes we can detect but we haven`t identified them yet.

And of course the traditional `map of the tongue`was thrown out too (something I learned this year).

The translation of `umami` varies widely.  I`ve heard it most commonly referred to as `savory` while I`ve also seen references to salty + savory and even glutamate.   MSG is packed with umami – some arguing that it is the only true representation of umami.  There`s some interesting arguments starting to appear in defence of MSG but that is an entire series of posts unto their own…

Examples of Umami-rich foods include:

  • Tomatoes (and sauce)
  • Aged food (i.e. cheese)
  • fermented food
  • Lobster
  • Ketchup
  • Soy sauce
  • Seafood
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Fish Sauce
  • Mushrooms
  • Vinegar, especially aged balsamic and ume boshi

For most of the rest of the year (and perhaps a bit into the next), I’m going to share reflections of the last year and what I’ve learned in the kitchen.  Sometimes daily posts miss the flavor of the larger lessons so this is an attempt to take a step back and share the lessons that I’ve taken from the last 365 days.  We’d love to know what you’ve learned this year too!

In short, Umami-rich foods are pretty much my all-time favourites.  For years I thought I needed warm food and hot lunches to be saited – I`ve come to learn that what I really crave is umami and that I can reach greater satisfaction on fewer calories (if desired) by exploiting this taste.

Chef Kinch went one step further at Terroir V this year, stating, `We examine every dish to check for the presence of umami – if it`s not there, we find a way to incorporate it.`  I`ve adopted a similar approach and while I don`t add it 100% of the time, the percentage is extremely high.

How do you incorporate umami into your cooking?  Is it something important or an afterthought?  What`s your favorite flavor (i.e. sweet, salty, sour, bitter or umami)?